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Montana's New COVID-19 Cases Tied To Cluster Outbreaks In Big Horn, Yellowstone Counties

The novel coronavirus.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

More than a dozen new cases of the COVID-19 illness in Montana can be traced to two separate cluster outbreaks in Yellowstone and Big Horn counties, officials say.

The majority of more than 20 new cases in Big Horn County were identified through contact tracing investigations that cross the border of the Crow Indian Reservation.

Rhonda Johnson, Public information Officer for Big Horn County.

"It’s not one particular town, it’s not one particular event. It’s not on the reservations or off the reservations. It’s really all throughout Big Horn County. And that’s why we are constantly reminding, some people may say harping, on taking precautions," Johnson said.

Johnson says testing in the county has expanded to include anyone who wants one during sentinel surveillance testing events. Five of the county’s total 31 cases were found from recent mass testing events. 23 cases are currently active but Johnson says there could be more as tests from other events are processed.

The 12 new cases in Yellowstone County are centered around an outbreak at the county’s detention center.

A female inmate at the Yellowstone County Detention Facility (YCDF) tested positive for COVID-19 on May 24. Since then RiverStone Health, the county's public health department, has tested 42 inmates and 41 jail staff. Seven more female inmates and one jail staff member have tested positive. One inmate is currently hospitalized while the others have been isolated.

John Felton, CEO and President of RiverStone Health in Billings and Yellowstone County Health Officer, says YCDF will continue to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as screening people for symptoms, increased sanitation and social distancing when possible.

"Gov. [Steve] Bullock has really made a concerted effort to push towards more surveillance testing. And so there is some supplies and equipment available for that. So we’ll be working with the State Health Department to determine as we move down the path of surveillance testing where this particular facility fits in that," Felton said.

The state’s largest spike in new cases since April comes as Montana is entering into phase two of its economic reopening plan June 1.

Gov. Bullock on a press call Monday said the new cases show the need for continued caution.

"Local public health could always and can, certainly our tribal nations could be more restrictive than statewide directives. But there's nothing that occured last week that would made me have thought limiting some areas and keeping them in phase one," Bullock said.

Health officers recommend continued social distancing, frequent handwashing and staying home if you’re sick.

As of June 1, the state health department is reporting 519 total lab-confirmed cases of the COVID-19 illness. There are 41 active cases statewide and two current hospitalizations. A total of 40,657 tests have been run at the state public health lab and some private partners.