YPR_WebHeader_FALL_1596x176_M
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Health

Montana Coronavirus And COVID-19 News

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

11/24/20

Montana today (Tues 11/24) added 974 new lab confirmed COVID-19 cases and 16 more Montanans have died from the virus.

The Montana Department of Corrections announced that a fourth inmate has died from COVID-19. The Great Falls Tribune reports that a teacher and basketball coach for the Great Falls School district also died from the virus.

Active infections continue to slowly tick down after peaking last week. As of today (Tuesday Nov. 24), more than 16,000 (16,188) Montanans were infected with COVID-19. Active hospitalizations remain at 467. State health officials updated various stakeholders today on the latest regarding the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

State health officials say the vaccine could arrive in the state sometime next month and that they will focus on vaccinating frontline healthcare workers. Vaccines aren’t expected to be widely available until next spring at the earliest.

11/23/20

Montana added 677 new COVID-19 cases Monday and 11 more Montanans have died from the virus. Two-hundred-twenty-eight people have died from COVID-19 in the state since Nov. 1.

Active cases ticked downward over the weekend, falling from their peak of just over 22,000 Friday to about 16,300 Monday.

Active hospitalizations also went down slightly as Gov. Steve Bullock announced the state has secured 200 traveling medical staff to help out hospitals hit hardest by the pandemic.

Some medical providers are beginning to roll back or cancel elective procedures due to capacity issues.

The Montana VA announced Friday that it’s pausing all elective procedures and reducing in person appointments by 50 percent. Bozeman Health is also saying that it’s reducing the number of elective procedures it’s able to provide each day.

Larger hospitals like Billings Clinic and Kalispell Regional Healthcare say they are still able to provide elective procedures at this time.

11/20/20

Montana added 1,475 new COVID-19 cases Friday, and announced six more deaths from the virus. Fifty-three Montanans have died from COVID-19 over the past week, bringing the state’s total death count to 567. The Montana Department of Corrections announced today a third inmate at the state prison has died from the virus.

Active cases across the state have been steadily growing throughout the month as new cases outpace the number of daily recoveries. The number of active cases has grown about 15 percent over the last week and 22,169 Montanans were sick with the virus as of today.

Active hospitalizations also saw an increase over the past couple of days. Hospitalizations peaked late last week and began a downward trend, but 506 people were hospitalized Friday.

Counties continue to note high positivity rates and are announcing a growing inability to test close contacts to positive cases who are asymptomatic. Schools are also struggling to keep students and staff in the classroom. Kirk Miller with School Administrators of Montana says there’s no way to count the number of schools that have shifted to remote learning, but says many districts have done so through the end of the month.

11/19/20

The state added 1,236 COVID-19 cases and reported no new deaths today. More of the state’s hospitals are reporting they’re at or nearing in-patient bed capacity. Six hospitals reported Wednesday 90 percent or more of their in-patient beds were full.

Counties are continuing to update local health orders in light of Gov. Steve Bullock’s announcement that new statewide restrictions will go into place Friday.

Bullock’s orders reduces allowed capacity at bars, restaurants, breweries and casinos from 75 to 50 percent and requires those businesses to close at 10 p.m. Bullock is also restricting gatherings to 25 people when social distancing cannot occur. The governor's updated directive extends the requirement of face coverings for certain indoor places to all counties.

Yellowstone County health officials announced today that they’re extending a health order limiting gatherings to 25 people through the end of the year, regardless of ability to social distance. The county is also expanding on Bullock’s order to require that churches and gyms also operate at 50 percent capacity and close at 10 p.m. The county is restricting private sports and performance organizations to only practicing with up to 25 people and forbids games or performances. The order does not impact school sports programs.

The Missoula City-County health board also updated some of its health orders, namely requiring event organizers of gatherings up to 250 people to submit plans 10 days ahead of time. The county says it will accept plans for sporting events with more than 25 people if they comply with NCAA and Big Sky Conference requirements.

Missoula County health officials also suggested that local health orders will stay in place if Governor-elect Greg Gianforte removes Gov. Bullock's current directives. Gianforte announced today that he received his first COVID-19 briefing from state and federal officials.

11/18/20

The state added 1,232 confirmed COVID-19 cases today and reported 18 more deaths. A total of 561 Montanans have now died from the virus. Roughly 30 percent of the state’s COVID-19 deaths have occurred since the beginning of November.

According to the state’s latest epidemiological report, the spread of the respiratory virus is continuing to grow in the state.

That report says the average positivity rate from tests climbed from 12 percent in October to 18 percent so far in November. New hospitalizations per week also shot up from about 100 per week in late September to 200 late last month.

About half of those who have become infected with the virus so far have been between 20 and 49 years old, many of those cases coming from younger people in their 20s. The median age of a COVID-19 death in Montana is 78 years old. Over a third of the deaths as of Nov. 5 in Montana were reported to be residents at assisted living and long-term-care facilities.

Rising case numbers continue to strain hospitals with four of the state’s larger hospitals reporting all of their in-patient beds full Tuesday. Only three of the state’s 49 critical access hospitals were at or near in-patient bed capacity. Gov. Steve Bullock said this week more hospital staff are needed to open up surge capacity in hospitals around the state. Bullock said the state is currently working on bringing 100 traveling medical staff to Montana hospitals.

How Risky Are Holiday Gatherings? Here's What Health Experts Say

As COVID-19 cases surge statewide and the holidays are approaching, many Montanans may be asking themselves how risky it is to gather with friends and family. MTPR’s Aaron Bolton explains what academics, infection modeling, and public health officials are saying about that risk. Learn more

Daines Calls COVID Vaccine Safe After Participating In Trial

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, said Wednesday that he has tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies after participating in Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine trial.

Daines' announcement came as drug company Pfizer said its vaccine is 95% effective. The company plans to seek emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration in the coming days.

The senator and his wife were part of a group of over 100 Montana residents participating in the trial.

“My goal is to help build confidence and trust for Montanans and the American people wondering if they should take the vaccine when it is approved. This is about saving lives," Daines said in a statement.

While Daines encouraged people to get the vaccine once it is approved, he said he does not believe in making it a requirement.

11/17/20

Gov. Steve Bullock is extending Montana’s mask mandate to all counties and putting in place other state-wide measures to reduce bar and restaurant capacity amid the coronavirus pandemic. Bullock announced the new directives today.

The state added 1,500 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, which follows the single-day record of over 1,600 Saturday. Bullock said the recent spike in cases combined with strained hospital capacity across the state were the reasons for the new restrictions.

"Our healthcare systems will eventually not be able to sustain this rate, particularly as we see resources becoming limited nationwide," Bullock said.

Under Bullock’s new directive restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries and casinos must operate at 50 percent capacity and close no later than 10 p.m. Public gatherings, unless exempted, are limited to 25 people when social distancing cannot occur. The governor also removed the exemption under his mask mandate for counties with 4 or fewer cases. Bullock’s new public health directives go into effect Friday, Nov. 20.

Last week, Bullock said he was wary of putting in place new restrictions without another relief package from Congress. In his announcement Tuesday he said the state will utilize $75 million in remaining federal aid to fund another round of business stabilization grants. He added that the state will also provide $25 million to issue unemployed Montanans an extra $200 per week on top of their current benefits. Those benefits will run Nov. 28 through Dec. 19.

"We know the needs of Montana businesses and families, the needs that they have are greater than what we can give them with this remaining state coronavirus relief funds," Bullock said.

Bullock also announced that the state is currently working on a contract with a private medical staffing firm that could bring about 100 new medical staff into the state as early as next week and provide much needed relief to hospitals with large numbers of staff isolating or quarantined.

11/16/20

Montana added 869 new confirmed COVID-19 cases Monday. The state added 2,932 cases over the weekend and 45 more Montanans were reported to have died from the virus. State health officials say COVID-19 is now the fourth leading cause of death in the state this year.

The large jump in cases Saturday broke the state’s single-day record, but state health officials say the fluctuation was in-part due to an update to the system used by county and tribal health officials to share case information with the state. The state began updating that system last week and it has caused daily numbers to fluctuate. State health department spokesperson Jon Ebelt says the new system will help synchronize data being shared at both the local and state level.

The state’s largest hospitals continue to be strained, with four reporting 90 percent or more of their in-patient beds full as of Sunday.

Blackfeet Nation Mourns COVID-19 Deaths, Urges Prayer And Precautions

The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council on Friday hosted a memorial for tribal members who’ve died from COVID-19.

COVID-19 has hit Native Americans in Montana particularly hard. Although only about seven percent of Montana’s population is Indigenous, Native Americans account for 36 percent of the state’s coronavirus deaths. Read more

Updated 11/13/20

The state set another single day record for new confirmed cases of COVID-19 Friday. The state health department reported 1,214 new cases, and five more people have died from the virus.

The number of new cases in the state have outpaced recoveries over the past week, with active cases growing by 3,700. Thirty seven people in Montana died over the past week due to the coronavirus.

Hospital capacity continues to be strained with three of the state’s largest hospitals reporting they were full at points over the past week. As of Thursday, St. Peters, St. Vincent and Benefis hospitals all reported that their in-patient beds were full. Hospital representatives say that they have found ways to care for patients, even when in-patient beds are reported as full.

Multiple County health departments report they cannot keep up on contact tracing with the number of new cases.

Gallatin County Health Officer Matt Kelly echoed Gov. Steve Bullock today in saying that it’s hard to enact new health restrictions without more economic support for the individuals and businesses they would impact.

Montana’s professional organization of nurses issued a set of recommendations Friday for ways Montanans can slow the spread of COVID-19. The Montana Nurses Association recommendations include keeping schools closed for the rest of the year, avoiding travel and staying home for the next month and a half.

The Association also recommends mask requirements in businesses and public places. It references new CDC data that show a mask not only protects others, but also helps protect the person wearing the mask.

The Montana Nurses Association says pausing now and committing to preventative measures could help the state’s schools, businesses and government succeed in 2021 and avoid overwhelming Montana’s health care system.

Updated 11/12/20

Health Officials Plead With Montanans To Stay Home, Follow COVID-19 Guidelines

Gov. Steve Bullock and health officials today asked Montanans to stay home as COVID-19 numbers flare across the state. The plea comes as the disease rises to the fourth leading cause of death in Montana and ahead of a holiday season that health experts expect will make matters worse.

With more than 17,000 people currently infected with the virus and thousands more in quarantine after potential exposure, schools and businesses are closing and the public health defense system is struggling to keep up. Read more

Flathead County Judge: State Didn’t Prove Flathead Businesses Violated Mask Directive

A Flathead County District Court judge Thursday denied the state’s request for a temporary restraining order against five businesses alleged to have violated Gov. Steve Bullock’s mask directive. In late October, the state brought five cases against bars, restaurants, casinos and convenience stores in Flathead County and asked the court to enact restraining orders against the businesses, arguing they weren’t following the state’s mask directive. Read more

Health Officials 'Preparing For The Worst' As COVID-19 Strains Montana Hospitals

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - Montana's chief epidemiologist says the state is “preparing for the worst” as COVID-19 cases stress many of its hospitals. U.S. officials have dispatched a team of nearly 30 physicians, nurses, paramedics and other health care workers to Montana’s largest city to address a surge in COVID-19 cases that is straining health systems statewide. The Billings Gazette reports that the National Disaster Medical System team arrived Friday and will work in Billings for two weeks. That comes as hospitals in many parts of the state are nearing full occupancy. A report shows hospitals in Billings, Helena and Butte have 90% or more of beds occupied.

State Wants Hundreds Of Unemployment Insurance Payments Returned

Hundreds of recipients of unemployment insurance through the federal CARES Act are now being asked to give that money back.

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program is designed for gig workers, the self-employed and other groups not normally eligible for unemployment benefits. The Bozeman Chronicle reported Thursday that recipients are now receiving bills, some for more than $10,000. Read more

Staff Shortages Force Changes In Bozeman Deaconess Hospital Quarantine Practices

Facing staff shortages, Bozeman Deaconess Hospital this week has begun reducing the quarantine requirement for certain employees who have been exposed to COVID-19.

Kallie Kujawak, who leads Bozeman Deaconess’s COVID-19 efforts, says hospital staff in some units who’ve been exposed to the virus but aren’t showing symptoms will return to work after a week of quarantine rather than the standard two weeks. She says they may return even if they have not received a negative test result by then.

"If we have two spine surgeons in the community, we can’t wait for results to come back for them to come in and take care of a trauma."

She says the shortened quarantine time for hospital staff is in line with updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and that Bozeman Deaconess has been in consultation with the Gallatin City-County Health Department.

Returning staff will consult with an infection prevention expert to minimize risks. Kajawak says the hospital will also check and document the workers’ symptoms every four hours.

Updated 11/10/20

According to the state’s report on bed capacity Monday, three of the state’s largest hospitals were completely full.

Benefis Health System in Great Falls is one of those facilities. Spokesperson Kaci Husted says bed capacity fluctuates by the hour, but says Benefis has found ways to treat patients, even when full.

“Even if that means taking more patients than we typically would on a given unit, or putting patients in places we wouldn’t normally put them.”

Billings Clinic and St. Peters Health in Helena also list their inpatient bed capacity as full Monday. St. Peters spokesperson Kathryn Gallagher said in a written statement the hospital continues to be able to treat patients, but says staffing is a barrier to adding any more beds. Gallagher says on any given day, 50 staff are out due to COVID-19 related issues.

In order to maintain bed availability, St. Peters has had to cancel non-emergency surgeries.

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services says starting Thursday, it will maintain a phone line for hospitals to call when they can’t find an open bed for patients. State health officials will utilize state hospital data to find beds for patients who need a higher or lower level of care.

Montana added 1,101 new confirmed COVID-19 cases today, and the state’s active case count stands at 16,816. The state listed five new deaths, and hospitalizations continue to grow, with 487 patients currently being treated for COVID-19 across the state.

Gianforte Names COVID-19 Task Force Members

Republican Governor-elect Greg Gianforte has put together a task force that will help inform the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic when he assumes office in January.

Gianforte says the COVID-19 task force will help him tailor a plan to address the “health and economic well-being of Montanans." Leading up to the election Gianforte didn't release specific plans to take over the state’s response to the coronavirus. The make-up of the task force gives more insight into what his priorities will be. Read more

Tough Housing Markets Could Worsen As Montana’s Jobs Recovery Slows

Amid job losses that haven’t fully recovered this year because of the pandemic recession, competition in many of Montana’s housing markets is also on the rise. That means many Montanans are struggling to find and keep housing. Read more

Hi-Line Hospitals Struggling As COVID-19 Numbers Spike

As COVID-19 cases across the state increase, Montana’s rural counties, which largely escaped the state’s first peak this spring and summer, are now grappling with large outbreaks.

MTPR’s Aaron Bolton spoke with New Media Broadcasters News Director Josh Margolis, based in Havre, about what he’s seeing along the Hi-Line. Read more

Update 11/09/20

Montana added little over 1,900 new cases of COVID-19 over the weekend and 12 more Montanans died from the virus. Officials say the several hundred cases reported Monday give an incomplete picture of the day’s findings because the state shut down it’s case reporting system for a time over the weekend. Health officials are expected to catch up on reporting by Tuesday, meaning new cases numbers then will likely be high.

As case numbers across the state continue to grow, Yellowstone County health officials today extended local health restrictions on group sizes and bar and restaurant capacity through early December. Health Officer John Felton announced during a press conference the county could implement more restrictive measures by the end of the week.

Felton announced the county has hired one of two, two-person compliance teams to help bring businesses into line with local and state COVID-19 restrictions through education.

"They will also be closely working with the county attorney’s office as well as me as the health officer in case we have situations where individuals or businesses fail to come into compliance after the education."

Yellowstone tallied more cases in October than it had in the entire time from June through September. Felton also said the COVID test positivity rate grew from 7 percent in early September to about 22 percent in the last week of October.

Both Billings Clinic and St. Vincent Healthcare, in Yellowstone County, announced the arrival of a federal 31-person team of nurses, doctors and other medical professionals to help with rising caseloads. According to a state report from Sunday, all of St. Vincent’s in-patient beds are full and it only has three open ICU beds. Seven out of the state’s 10 large hospitals are 70 percent full or more.

County health departments big and small continue to say they can’t keep up with new cases and are falling behind in their contact tracing efforts. Missoula County health officials said Friday they are beginning to see the number of cases among those 80 and older grow, a frightening trend since older populations are more likely to become seriously sick or die from COVID-19 infection. According to state data, 1 percent of people who have caught the virus have died from it, 4 percent have required hospitalization.

Update 11/05/20

Montana added 1,013 new confirmed COVID-19 cases Thursday, nearly breaking the state’s single-day record for new cases. The state reported 3 additional deaths. That brings the death count to 407, more than double the number of people who have died in car crashes this year.

Flathead County health officials announced today that contact tracers are unable to alert all close contacts of positive cases and that they will now focus on informing close contacts that are in high-risk categories. The county health department is now asking those who test positive to tell those they’ve been in close contact with. Close contacts are anyone within six feet of an infected person for 15 minutes or more.

Yellowstone County continues to be the state’s largest hotspot with more than 20 percent of Montana’s total active cases. More cases added in Missoula and Cascade counties in recent days make them the second and third largest hotspots in the state with at least 1,200 cases each.

Update 11/04/20

The state added 793 new confirmed COVID-19 cases today, and five more Montanans have died from the virus, bringing the death-toll to 404. State health officials are asking the federal government for more health care workers. Earlier this week, five federal medical teams consisting mostly of nurses arrived at facilities around the state.

Delila Bruno is the division administrator of Montana Disaster and Emergency Services. She says the state received 31 nurses and physicians after requesting 25. She adds the state just requested 31 additional federal medical personnel.

“The second round that we put in for today included a mix of mostly nurses, but also some physicians.”

Hospitals big and small are struggling under the weight of COVID-19 patients, which typically take twice the number of staffing and other resources.

The state’s request for more federal medical staff was made Tuesday and Bruno expects it to be approved yet this week.

According to state data from Tuesday, Billings Clinic and Benefis Hospitals continue to be the hardest hit among the state’s larger medical facilities with between 70 and 90 percent of their beds full. According to the report, all of Benefis’ ICU beds were full Tuesday.

Beds in 14 out of the state’s 49 smaller critical access hospitals are also between 70 and 90 percent full.

--

GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) — The four-member staff of a Montana county health department has resigned, citing a lack of support by the county in fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

The Great Falls Tribune reported Wednesday that Pondera County Health Department Director Nicki Sullivan wrote a letter to the Pondera County Commission that highlighted the need for a fairer wage, more transparency and additional contact tracers and staffers.

The commission issued a statement Wednesday expressing continued support of health care professionals and shared goals toward reducing the spread of COVID-19 while keeping schools and businesses open. It said a meeting with the workers was set for Thursday.

Update 11/03/20

Montana added 909 new confirmed COVID-19 cases today and 13 more Montanans died from the virus.

More counties are adding or are considering new restrictions aimed at reducing the spread of the coronavirus. Earlier this week, Cascade county enacted restrictions reducing capacity in restaurants. This comes as the county announced five deaths today (Tuesday Nov. 3).

Gallatin County will consider limiting gatherings to 25 people and reducing capacity in bars, restaurants and gyms Friday.

Additional restrictions were rejected by officials in Flathead County. Health officials reintroduced a 500-person event limit on indoor gatherings Monday, but the county health board rejected that proposal. Flathead County Health Officer Tamalee Robinson has said she’s reluctant to enact orders on her own without the support of the health board and county commissioners.

Update 11/02/20

Federal resources are beginning to arrive at hospitals in eastern and central Montana as providers struggle to care for patients during the pandemic. Among those resources are five medical teams.

According to state data, 386 Montanans are hospitalized with COVID-19. It typically takes about twice the number of medical staff to care for those patients, significantly straining staffing capacity at medical facilities big and small.

Last week, Gov. Steve Bullock announced that medical teams from the federal government were heading to Montana to assist hospitals who are struggling to keep up with COVID-19 and other patients. Some of the medical teams arrived in Montana this week.

As of Sunday, 62 percent of hospital inpatient beds across the state were being used.

Billings Clinic also announced it had received 15 new ventilators from the federal government and a $150,000 federal grant to expand testing capacity.

Yellowstone county still reports the highest number of people sick with the virus.

The state added 1,063 new cases on Friday. That single-day record was followed by 2,338 new cases confirmed over Saturday, Sunday and Monday. So far, 386 Montanans have died from the COVID-19 virus.

Update 10/30/20

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana reported a daily record of 1,063 new cases of COVID-19 and 27 more deaths on Friday as it kept pace with the national surge of infections.

Since the pandemic began, the state has confirmed nearly 32,000 cases of the respiratory virus and at least 364 deaths. Nearly 360 people remain hospitalized, health officials said.

The state's previous one-day high was 924 cases reported on Oct. 21.

The 27 deaths reported Friday included 11 in Roosevelt County and four in Yellowstone County. Total deaths are split about evenly among those that happened within the past two weeks and deaths that happened over the past month but hadn't been reported yet, Department of Public Health and Human Services spokesman Jon Ebelt said.

Yellowstone County's deaths included three that occurred at a senior living facilities between Sept. 22 and Oct. 13, county health officials said.

Montana has confirmed 5,462 cases in the past seven days, or an average of 779 a day. The number of new infections is not known because not everyone is tested and people can have COVID-19 without having symptoms.

Medical providers and COVID-19 survivors have been urging residents to wear masks to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Hospital workers have said their resources are strained and the state health department is seeking court orders to get five businesses in Flathead County to comply with mask mandates.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

Culture Over Economy: Blackfeet Nation Feeling The Impacts Of COVID-19 Closures

Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana is one of the most-visited parks in the country. But this summer, the Blackfeet Nation made the unprecedented call to close the park’s eastern entrances in hopes of keeping COVID-19 off its reservation. Victor Yvellez brings us this look at the economic fallout of the tribe’s decision. Read more

Despite Shutdowns, COVID-19 Cases Spike On Blackfeet Reservation

When the Blackfeet Nation closed its borders in the hopes of keeping COVID-19 out, the tribe suffered economically. But the virus still found its way in, sometimes with fatal effects. Kylie Mohr reports on why Blackfeet residents are worried as cases spike for the first time in months. Read more

COVID-19 Restrictions Put Tribal Sovereignty To The Test

The Blackfeet Nation in the northwest corner of Montana shut its borders in an effort to stave off the coronavirus. Mary Auld reports on central South Dakota, where the Cheyenne River Sioux are enacting their own preventative measures as a sovereign government. Read more

Update 10/29/20

Montana Governor Steve Bullock Thursday said 15 nurses from the U.S. Department of Public Health and Human Services will go to critical-access hospitals along the Hi-line and in eastern Montana to alleviate staffing shortages. They're scheduled to arrive in the middle of next week and stay for 30 days.

Bullock says rural hospitals have been facing staffing shortages as more nurses get COVID-19 or go into quarantine because they are a close contact to a known case.

"By making sure that we can help manage staffing needs, we’ll not only ensure that those rural hospitals stay open but also prevent patients from having to be transferred to higher care facilities to take up more bed space in urban areas."

Bullock says 10 more nurses are expected to arrive after they’ve responded to Hurricane Zeta.

He submitted the request for nurses to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services two weeks ago. The Montana State Emergency Coordination Center is in charge of operations.

News of the incoming nurses came the same day Montana added 891 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of active cases in the state to 10,474.

Twelve more Montanans have died since the last state update Wednesday. COVID-19 has killed a total of 337 Montanans. More than 370 Montanans are currently hospitalized.

The Cascade City-County Health Board is the latest to add restrictions on gathering sizes and capacity in businesses to reduce the strain of COVID-19 cases on the health system in Great Falls.

Starting Sunday, the number of people at gatherings and events will be capped at 50. Previously, the limit was 250 people for indoor events and 500 people outside.

Schools, childcare facilities and polling places are exempt, as are places of worship if they can maintain six feet of distance between people. Places of worship are still limited to 75 percent capacity.

Also starting Sunday, bars, restaurants, casinos, and coffee houses will be required to reduce capacity from 75 percent to 50.

Cafeterias for schools, hospitals and nursing homes, and airport concessionaires are exempt.

Update 10/28/20

State data Wednesday show 632 new COVID-19 cases in Montana. More than 10,000 cases are active, and 374 Montanans are currently hospitalized. Twenty more Montanans died since the last state update Tuesday, bringing the total death count to 325. That’s around the population size of Drummond in Granite County or Hysham in Treasure County.

A sustained increase in cases has triggered a new health order in Hill County, in effect November 4th, that will limit most social gatherings to 25 people, and cut capacity in half at restaurants and bars. Cafeterias for schools, hospitals and long term care facilities are exempt.

The health order will be in place for at least a month. Hill County Health Officer Kim Larson Friday set a threshold for new COVID-19 cases that, if surpassed this week, would trigger the health order. Hi-Line Today reports the county crossed that threshold of 58 COVID-19 cases from October 26 to November 1 in just two days.

Missoula and Yellowstone counties recently issued health orders that limit most gatherings and events to 25 people.

Update 10/27/20

With 855 new COVID-19 cases reported Tuesday, Montana for the first time surpassed 10,000 active cases. That means the number of Montanans known to be currently infected with the virus is more than the population of Havre.

As of today 305 Montanans have died from COVID-19. Currently 350 people are hospitalized, a total of 1,245 people have been hospitalized.

State Medical Officer Greg Holzman on a press call Tuesday said even if a nursing home is doing everything right to protect its residents from the virus, there’s a high likelihood it will make its way in if the virus is prevalent in the community.

"We cannot cocoon the vulnerable. We hear that a lot. We are an interdependent society."

Holzman said people who work in nursing homes, hospitals and prisons can unintentionally spread the virus. He referenced a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that found that spikes of COVID-19 cases in 20 and 30 year olds spurred higher infection rates in older populations several weeks later.

Public health officials say wearing a mask, staying home when sick, limiting contact with people outside your household and washing your hands have all been proven to limit the virus’s spread.

Missoula County Adopts More Stringent COVID-19 Restrictions

Missoula County Tuesday announced a health order that reduces the number of people allowed to gather for events and in some businesses in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Starting Thursday at 8 am, events and gatherings in Missoula will be limited to 25 people. That includes parties and receptions, meetings, farmers markets, concerts, sporting events, organized youth activities. Read more

In Flathead County, A COVID-19 Hotspot, Enforcement Of Health Restrictions Remains Lax

In recent weeks, as COVID-19 cases increased in the Flathead, county officials have declined to put in place new restrictions and enforce state rules already in place. The Governor’s Office says it went to the court, in part, because of local officials' lack of action.

"I can make an order, and if there’s no enforcement and prosecution of it, what good is it?" says Tamalee Robinson, the Flathead County health officer. Read more

COVID-19 Case Numbers Continue Rise In Montana's Prisons

The Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge announced 37 new cases of COVID-19 Monday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases among inmates to 203. Fourteen additional staff members tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the staff total to 75.

The Montana Women’s Prison in Billings also reported a surge of cases among inmates, with 47 positive inmate cases and 12 staff cases. No inmates at the women’s prison are currently hospitalized due to the virus. The women’s prison had not reported any new cases at the facility since June, after an inmate, who was not immediately isolated after her transfer to the facility, tested positive.

Gov. Steve Bullock activated the Montana Army National Guard to assist with the outbreak at Montana State Prison.

"This support for the Montana State Prison is absolutely critical in ensuring that clinical staff can focus on caring for those tested positive for COVID-19 in the facility, and on mitigating the spread as much as possible."

The 67 volunteer soldiers with the National Guard began assisting with daily duties today and are expected to be at the prison until November 8. The Department of Corrections requested the Guard’s deployment. DOC says soldiers will not be armed and their contact with inmates will be minimized.

Since the start of the pandemic, the DOC has reported a total of 525 inmates and 98 staff have tested positive for COVID-19.

Update 10/26/20

State data Monday show 622 new COVID-19 cases in Montana, bringing the number of active cases to 9,855. Yellowstone County leads the state with the highest number of active cases with nearly 2,000. Missoula County has the second highest number of active cases, followed by Cascade and Gallatin counties.

According to state data 303 Montanans have died from COVID-19, nearly double the number of highway fatalities this year. More than 350 people are currently hospitalized.

The Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribal Health Board has extended the Stay Home order for the Fort Peck Reservation until further notice. The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council also extended Blackfeet Nation’s Stay Home order through Sunday, November 8.

The Lewis and Clark County Board of Health Thursday said nonessential events with more than 50 people will not be approved until further notice due to a recent spike in cases.

The Independent Record reported that the new limit applies to fans at sporting events, concerts and haunted houses. The 50 person limit also applies to special events at places of worship and businesses.

Most Montana Counties Haven't Requested COVID-19 Enforcement Funds

The vast majority of Montana counties aren’t taking Gov. Steve Bullock up on his offer to help pay for the enforcement of public health guidelines aimed at slowing a surge in COVID-19 cases. It’s been two weeks since the governor offered an extra $5 million in federal CARES Act funds to pay for counties’ enforcement work. Read more

MSU Poll: Fewer Montanans Say They'll Get A COVID-19 Vaccine Compared To Spring

Results released Friday from Montana State University’s pre-election poll show Montanans across all party affiliations are feeling more uncertain about the safety of a potential COVID-19 vaccine. Read more

Montana's Gubernatorial Candidates Short On Details When It Comes To COVID-19 Plans

Whoever is elected as Montana's next governor will inherit oversight of the state's response to the pandemic. Yellowstone Public Radio's Nicky Ouellet and Rachel Cramer discuss what the candidates are and aren't saying about how they'd handle the public health crisis. Read more

Update 10/22/20

Montana broke a record Thursday with 932 new reported COVID-19 cases in counties across the state. That’s nearly 200 more cases than the last record of 734 new cases a week ago.

More than 9,000 people are infected with the virus, and nearly a quarter of them are in Yellowstone County.

Three more people have died since the statewide update Wednesday, bringing the total of COVID-19 related deaths in the state to 278.

Currently, 353 Montanans are hospitalized with COVID-19.

The most current state data show nearly 1,200 of the COVID-19 cases through last Friday were associated with schools. Seventy percent of schools in Montana report active cases during the last two weeks. More than 880 cases have been associated with Montana’s 14 universities.

Montana Sues Businesses Not Complying With Mask Mandate

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said Thursday that the state health department is pursuing legal action against several businesses in northwestern Montana after they failed to follow restrictions meant to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The state also launched a website to allow people to submit complaints against businesses and events that are not complying with health directives. The complaints will be reviewed by the state health department and then sent to local authorities for investigation. Read more

Montana's Rural Hospitals Look Out Of State As COVID-19 Strains Local Resources

President and CEO of the Montana Hospital Association Rich Rasmussen says critical access hospitals across the state -- short on beds and staff even in good days -- are struggling with staffing and could be overwhelmed as providers are exposed or test positive for COVID-19. Read more

Update 10/21/20

A county health board in north-central Montana Wednesday approved a proposal to set a threshold for new COVID-19 cases that, if surpassed, will trigger stricter restrictions on social gatherings and capacity in bars, restaurants and casinos.

Hill County, population 16,000, has had more than 600 COVID-19 cases. At least half of those are active.

Health Officer Kim Larson said clusters have been associated with schools, work settings and social gatherings.

"We were doing really well up until about October. We’ve seen over half of our cases since October 1st, and we really need to get control of it."

She said the county needs to slow the spread of the virus to keep the hospital and clinic from being overwhelmed.

If Hill County can’t get down to 58 new cases per week starting next Monday, a new health order will require social gatherings to be capped at 25 people, regardless of their ability to maintain physical distancing. Restaurants, bars, distilleries, breweries and casinos will be limited to 50 percent capacity. The new health order would be in effect for at least a month.

The state reported 624 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, bringing the total number of active cases to over 9,000.

State Unemployment Office Estimates $3 Million In Fraudulent Payments During COVID Surge

Montana has sent over $1 billion in unemployment benefits to residents since the start of the pandemic. The state passed that milestone in October. As unemployment payments climbed during the pandemic, so did fraud. Read more

Reservation Facilities Strapped For Space As Regional Hospitals Fill

"You start out with fairly small staff and fairly small facilities, and then you have large case numbers. So you're kind of getting hit from both sides. You might have staffing shortages because some of your staff is literally out ill and you might have staffing shortages because you don't have enough staff to effectively interview all the cases identified or do all the contact tracing needed." Read more

COVID-19 Cases Continue To Rise In Montana Schools

The number of total COVID-19 cases associated with K-12 schools in Montana has doubled over a two week stretch, according to the most recent state data. Read more

Update 10/20/20

Montana Tuesday reported 706 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of active cases to just under 9,000. The record breaking high of active cases in Montana was Monday with over 9,600.

The state dashboard shows 11 more deaths from the virus Tuesday, bringing the total to 252 reported deaths. A total of 360 people with COVID-19 are currently hospitalized.

Intensive care units are full at St. Peter’s Health in Helena, Community Hospital of Anaconda, Marcus Day Hospital in Hamilton and Sidney Health Center.

Yellowstone County hit a sobering milestone Tuesday with more than 5,000 total cases. Around one third are currently active.

Riverstone Health in Billings says the surge of cases this month has nearly overwhelmed the local health care system. On Monday morning, more than 300 new cases had yet to be assigned to RiverStone Health case investigators and contact tracers. That backlog has been growing in the past few weeks, resulting in delays.

Families Sue Whitefish Nursing Home Claiming Negligence Led To COVID-19 Deaths

Families of four former Whitefish Care And Rehabilitation residents filed a lawsuit in county court Tuesday alleging that negligence in implementing COVID-19 protocols at the facility led to their family members' deaths. Read more

Domestic Violence Shelter Fundraising Effort Points To Increased Need Mid-Pandemic
A domestic violence nonprofit in Bozeman this month launched a campaign to fundraise for a new shelter it announced last year, and it says the pandemic highlights the need for more safe spaces. Read more

Montana Submits Draft COVID-19 Vaccination Plan To CDC

Montana released a draft document Monday that outlines its COVID-19 vaccination plan and priorities as required by the CDC.

The draft plan says front line health care workers, personnel who play a critical role in national security, law enforcement, firefighters, pregnant women and infants will be the first to receive a vaccine during the initial two month roll out, though it’s not clear when that may be. Read more

Update 10/19/20

State data Monday show 569 new COVID-19 cases in Montana.

Over 9,600 people are currently infected and 339 people are currently hospitalized, both new records for the state.

Benefis Hospital in Great Falls, St. Peters Health in Helena, and Roundup Memorial Healthcare are currently at capacity for inpatient beds, according to the latest report.

The most recent hospital capacity report from Sunday shows inpatient hospital beds in 13 counties are over 70 percent full. Musselshell County is reporting 100 percent occupancy.

County public health officials are asking Montanans to follow recommendations to curb the spread of the disease, including limiting visits with people from outside your household to six per week and capping visits at 15 minutes. Regular hand washing, mask wearing and maintaining distance from others are also advised.

Crow Nation Implements New Restrictions

The Crow Nation is under a new set of health restrictions after an increase in active COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks. Those cases are driven by social gatherings, school openings and failure to follow safety guidelines.

Crow Tribal Chairman AJ Not Afraid issued an executive order Oct. 18 that requires tribal campaign rallies to be held drive-up style. The order also restricts social gatherings to 50 people and institutes a daily curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.

The new restrictions will be in place until November 8.

The majority of the Crow reservation is in Big Horn County. Big Horn County is currently reporting 200 active COVID-19 cases. The Crow/Northern Cheyenne hospital has only one bed available, according to the state health department.

The Fort Peck, Rocky Boy’s and Blackfeet reservations are also currently under restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

covid-map-npr-10-19-20.png

This heat map shows state by state trends in COVID-19 cases over the last four weeks

Update 10/16/20

This week Montana crossed 20,000 total cases of COVID-19. More than 253 people have died, a 50 percent increase since this time last month.

The recent surge in deaths, hospitalizations and cases has health care workers pleading for people to wear masks, keep their distance from others and to follow other public health directives aimed at slowing COVID-19’s spread.

Trisha Garner is the city-county public health officer in Cascade County. She spoke during a press conference Friday with other public officials in Great Falls.

"Assume it’s everywhere. Take the precautions everywhere."

Bridget Brennan, the chief medical officer at Benefis Health System, said hospitals and health care workers are stressed. She repeated calls for people to get flu shots, stay home from work if sick and to take the virus seriously.

"I’m hoping that if we say it enough people will start to actually hear it. I can’t think of another definition aside from 'public health crisis' right now."

Montana ranks third among states for highest risk, with an 88 percent increase in average new cases compared to two weeks, according to analysis by NPR.

Hospitals large and small have reported maxing-out inpatient beds and intensive care units.

Billings Clinic, the state’s largest hospital, on Friday said a married couple, both on ventilators with COVID-19, had been moved into the same intensive care unit to free up space for another critically ill patient.

The clinic said the unprecedented move was part of a recently activated surge plan that includes converting its cardiovascular unit to treat critically ill patients.

Montana Is Calling For Help As Coronavirus Surge Overwhelms Health Care System

With coronavirus infections five times higher than a month ago, Montana's hospitals are scrambling, and the state is having a hard time finding enough health care workers. Listen

Helena Concert Spreads COVID-19 Cases, Health Officials Say

Local health officials have reported that an unspecified number of COVID-19 cases have been tied to an outdoor concert in Helena held earlier this month. U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, the Republican candidate for governor, attended the event and his campaign says he’s symptom free.

Lewis and Clark Public Health issued a press release Thursday advising anyone who attended the Let Freedom Ring concert to monitor their health closely for symptoms of the virus after positive cases have been tied to the event.

Plans for the Let Freedom Ring concert, hosted outside in a field, had been approved by Lewis and Clark Public Health. The Oct. 3 event was free.

Gianforte led the Pledge of Allegiance and left shortly after, according to his spokesperson Travis Hall. Hall said in an email that Gianforte is not experiencing symptoms and has not been recommended by his doctor to get tested for COVID-19.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, who’s running against Gianforte for governor, called on Gianforte in a news release to get tested and suspend campaigning until he gets the results.

Cooney and Gianforte debated in-person at MontanaPBS studios three days after the concert. Cooney’s campaign said in the release that because of that contact, Cooney has gotten tested for COVID-19. His results came back negative Friday afternoon.

Cooney called Gianforte’s behavior "reckless" and asked him to apologize. Gianforte’s campaign manager, Jake Eaton, said in a statement that Cooney is "politicizing public health. "

Update 10/14/20

Montana is reporting 668 new cases of COVID-19 today, bringing the total number of active cases to nearly 8,000.

State medical officer Dr. Greg Holzman says while most cases of COVID-19 are coming from close contacts in households, “There have been instances where we have had large gatherings where they’re clearly over capacity or not following masking directives where we have documented transmission.”

He says some of those include large gatherings at restaurants and bars after sporting events.

Outbreaks in Flathead County have been linked to four weddings, two trade shows and three political events.

In Park County, most of the recent cases have been tied to five clusters, including two workplaces, a few bars and a recent social gathering.

In Missoula County, the health department has temporarily closed two bars, the Missoula Club and the Alcan bar in Frenchtown, due to their failure to enforce preventative measures.

Gov. Steve Bullock this week expressed support for Yellowstone County’s new health order that limits most group gatherings to 25 people, regardless of their ability to maintain physical distancing indoors or outside. He said Montanans should have a shared goal of supporting local public health officers, doctors and nurses to get a handle on the virus.

The Chippewa Cree Tribe has ordered a lockdown on the Rocky Boy's reservation through Oct. 25. With the exception of essential services, the order prohibits all travel outside of homes.

Montana’s hospital capacity report Wednesday showed some improvements for certain counties.

Lincoln County, which had reported all of its inpatient hospital beds were full, is now at half capacity.

Flathead County is also reporting over half of its inpatient hospital beds are open now.

Yellowstone, Custer, Lewis and Clark, and Silverbow counties have over 90 percent occupancy.

Five counties are over 80 percent full.

Data is missing for eight counties.

Hospitals in Billings, Butte, Helena and Missoula and four critical-access hospitals in Crow Agency, Miles City, Roundup and Terry report over 90 percent of their inpatient beds are full.

Update 10/13/20

New state data Tuesday show 530 new COVID-19 cases in Montana, which is lower than most of the daily caseloads last week. Nearly 7,800 Montanans are currently infected with the virus.

Yellowstone and Flathead counties together account for around a third of the state’s active case counts, with over 1,000 active cases in each county.

Missoula, Cascade, Gallatin and Glacier counties all have more than 500 active cases.

Blaine County ranks 11th in the U.S. for counties with the highest infections rates per 100,000 people, according to COVID Act Now. Fergus County is 15th and Beaverhead County ranks 31st.

217 Montanans have died from COVID-19 and nearly 300 people are currently hospitalized.

Montana Hospitals Facing Staff Shortages Amid COVID Surge

As COVID-19 cases across the state surge, the number of available hospital beds for COVID and other patients is quickly becoming a concern. But a shortage of health care workers to staff and watch over patients in those beds is already a problem in some areas of the state. Read more

Yellowstone County Caps Groups At 25 To Limit Coronavirus Spread

Yellowstone County ranks 14 out of the top 20 metro areas in the country for the highest infection rates of coronavirus per 100,000 people, according to COVID Act Now. To slow the spread of COVID-19 and lessen the strain on hospitals, the county health officer will implement new restrictions starting Wednesday. Read more

Americans Are Dying In The Pandemic At Rates Far Higher Than In Other Countries

During this pandemic, people in the United States are currently dying at rates unparalleled elsewhere in the world.

A new report in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that over the last 5 months per capita deaths in the U.S., both from COVID-19 and other causes have been far greater than in 18 other high-income countries. Read more

covid-map-npr-10-13-20.jpg

Update 10/12/20

Three of Montana’s 10 largest hospitals — Community Medical Center in Missoula, St. James Health Care in Butte and St. Peters Health in Helena — reported at least 90 percent of their inpatient hospital beds were full. Billings Clinic’s inpatient hospital beds are currently 75 percent full.

291 Montanans were hospitalized as of Monday due to COVID-19.

Nancy Iverson is the director of patient safety and infection control at Billings Clinic, which is bringing in refrigerator trucks to store bodies as the morgue runs out of room.

"We are having patients die within our hospital. We have Yellowstone County residents and people who come from across the region who we serve. They are dying from COVID-19. In fact, we had four deaths last weekend, and our current morgue holding area only holds two."

Three critical access hospitals — Cabinet Peaks Medical Center, Glendive Medical Center and Roundup Memorial Healthcare — report 100 percent of their inpatient hospital beds are occupied.

Montana has more than 7,400 active cases of the coronavirus.

Whitefish Schools Reverse Course On In-Person Classes

Just days after a decision to move toward more in-person classes, Whitefish Public Schools announced Monday it will stay in a hybrid model and move its middle school to all remote classes. The change follows 16 new COVID-19 cases in the district. Read more
Montana Critical Access Hospitals Prepare For A Surge They're Now Beginning To See

Since the start of October, Sanders County in western Montana has quadrupled its COVID-19 case count. Rachel Cramer with Yellowstone Public Radio news spoke with a healthcare professional in Sanders County to learn what the rise of cases there and in nearby counties means for the critical access hospital. Read more

COVID-19 Stalks A Montana Town Already Grappling With Asbestos Disease

Thousands of people from Libby and Lincoln County, in the far northwestern corner of Montana, have lungs already scarred by years of breathing in the asbestos fibers that have contaminated the area's dust and soil, making them more vulnerable to complications from COVID-19. The asbestos is a legacy of a now-defunct plant in the area that made vermiculite, a mineral used in insulation and gardening. Read more

Update 10/11/20

The Montana state health department is reporting more than 7,100 active cases of the novel coronavirus statewide, with 286 people currently hospitalized with the virus. Montana ranks third nationally for daily new cases behind North and South Dakota, according to covidactnow.org.

Recent analysis of cases by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services show case counts grew exponentially in September, driven by cluster outbreaks and schools reopening.

Health officials in Yellowstone County are expected to announce business and gathering size restrictions Monday as the county health department struggles to monitor known patients and trace their contacts. Health Officer John Felton last week said those restrictions could include limiting gatherings to 25 people, shutting down bars at 10 p.m. and capping restaurant and bar capacity at 25 percent.

As of Friday, five of the state’s 10 large hospitals reported more than 90 percent of their inpatients beds were occupied.

Update 10/09/20

Montana passed a sobering milestone Friday. The state reports 206 people have died because of COVID-19. That’s a 230 percent increase over the 60 deaths reported at the end of July.

State data Friday also showed 715 new confirmed cases, bringing the statewide total of people who have been infected since the start of the pandemic at least 17,399. This is the second day this week that the number of new cases have exceeded the 700 mark.

Yellowstone and Flathead counties each have more than 1,000 active cases. Cascade and Missoula counties each have more than 500 active cases.

Yellowstone County is 126 new coronavirus cases away from triggering a local health order that’s expected to limit business capacity. County Health Officer John Felton says he will issue new restrictions aimed at slowing the virus’s spread if 565 new cases of COVID-19 are reported by the end of the week.

The county reports 439 new cases for the week as of Thursday.

Felton says he wants local businesses, churches and schools to stay open, but adds many county residents are ignoring precautions that leading scientists have found effective in limiting spread.

UM Will Start Processing COVID-19 Tests For The State

The University of Montana’s Genomics Core lab which normally assists other campus research projects, will now exclusively focus on COVID testing. Test results will be sent to the state health department.

The lab will initially process 20 to 80 tests daily, with most of those coming from the UM campus. Within a few weeks, the lab expects to get new equipment that will enable it to crank out 200 to 400 statewide tests daily.

Montana National Guard Adjutant General Matt Quinn chairs the state’s COVID-19 Task Force and toured UM’s lab Friday."So as they build that capacity it’s important, but even today if they can do 80 tests, that’s 80 citizens of Montana that are able to get their tests faster than they would have otherwise," Quinn said.

According to analysis from Johns Hopkins University, recent COVID-19 tests of Montanans have come back positive more than 9 percent of the time. The World Health Organization says positive rates should remain under 5 percent. John Hopkins researchers say a positive rate over the 5 percent threshold means more testing should probably be done.

UM President Seth Bodnar:

"We have this infrastructure here and we have brilliant researchers across different disciplines that are able to use these really unique and valuable assets for different types of research. And when we see something emerge, like coronavirus, we’re able to say, 'ok we’ve got these instruments in place, we’ve got the expertise in place, we can help address that problem.'"UM is also conducting COVID-19 research.

Schools Take Different Approaches As COVID-19 Numbers Grow

Well over a month into the school year, some public school districts are making decisions about whether they should move toward more in-person education while those that are dealing with outbreaks are temporarily shutting their doors. Read more

Update 10/08/20

Montana’s health department reported 615 new cases of the novel coronavirus Thursday from nearly 5,500 tests run.

More than 260 COVID-19 patients hospitalized statewide are straining the state’s health care system. State data show Lincoln County has no open inpatient hospital beds, and hospitals in Yellowstone, Musselshell and Custer counties are at 90 percent capacity.

County health officials say they’re seeing high rates of COVID-19 transmission related to events, restaurants, bars and social gatherings. Health care providers have asked Montanans to limit gatherings to ten or fewer people, wear a mask and socially distance from others.

The state health department Thursday announced a resident of the Montana Veterans’ Home in Columbia Falls died from a COVID-19 related illness in late September. It’s the first death at the facility that houses 91 residents. A total of 24 cases have been identified at the facility since early August.

Montana, along with neighboring states North and South Dakota, are among the five highest-risk areas in the country for the coronavirus, according to analysis by NPR.

This heat map show the states with the most new daily COVID-19 cases. Daily cases are a 7-day average to smooth out day-to-day variations in the data.
This heat map show the states with the most new daily COVID-19 cases. Daily cases are a 7-day average to smooth out day-to-day variations in the data.

CREDIT NPR NEWS

Montana Releases Data On Hospital Occupancy, Capacity

At least half of all hospital beds in 27 Montana counties are full, according to new state data released Thursday.

The state is reporting inpatient hospital beds are completely full in Lincoln County and at least 90 percent full in Yellowstone, Musselshell and Custer counties.

Statewide, most of the hospitalized patients do not have COVID-19, but public health officials and hospital administrators are warning that the recent surge of cases could overwhelm the state’s healthcare system. Read more

Update 10/07/20

Montana health officials reported 733 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, again shattering the record for daily cases. The previous record, set on Tuesday, stood at 504 cases.

Missoula County health officials said the 211 new cases reported in the county represent a reporting lag. However, an official said Tuesday the Missoula health department would increase enforcement of statewide regulations with unannounced inspections of businesses. Gov. Steve Bullock has previously said it is up to local counties and health departments to issue stricter regulations to prevent the spread of the virus.

Montana To Release Hospital COVID-19 Numbers

After days of record COVID-19 cases, Montana health officials say they’ll start releasing daily hospital capacity numbers. Health care providers say hospitals will be overwhelmed if Montanans can’t flatten the curve.

The daily reports will include the total number of hospital beds and ventilators in the state, as well as Intensive Care Unit capacity and the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized. Read more

Northern Cheyenne President Declares Continued State of Emergency, Extends Restrictions

The Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana has declared a continued state of emergency until the number of COVID-19 cases in the area declines. Here's what this means for reservation residents.

On Oct. 5 President Rynalea Whiteman Pena of the Northern Cheyenne tribe issued an executive order extending the full lockdown of the reservation. Read more

Update 10/06/20

The Montana health department reported another record-breaking 504 new lab-confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus Tuesday.

The Billings Gazette is reporting that 230 Montana health care providers from around the state have signed a letter saying if Montanans can't get case numbers down, hospitals are going to be overwhelmed.

The letter recommends not gathering in groups larger than 10; practicing frequent hand washing, maintaining distance and wearing a mask.

Health officials in Yellowstone this week said local business restrictions and health orders will be instituted if case counts continue to rise at the current rate.

Flathead county is also seeing a surge of new cases and health officials there are urging people to take steps to prevent the spread of the virus.

In Missoula county, officials are hiring new staff to help trace contacts for possible COVID-19 exposure.

Cindy Farr is with the Missoula City County Health Department

"We are unable to complete our contact tracing in the 24-28 hour window that is ideal for controlling an outbreak. In some cases it’s taking up to a week to complete that investigation and contact tracing."

Statewide nearly 5,000 people are currently infected with the virus that’s killed more than 190 Montanans.

Update 10/05/20

Every county in Montana has now reported a case of COVID-19. A woman in her 50s contracting the virus became Petroleum County's first reported case since the start of the pandemic.

The state health department reported 212 new cases Mon. That means more than 5,000 people in the state are now sick with the virus.

According to data analysis from NPR, Montana is in the top five states for daily new cases per 100,000 people over the last week. 

This heat map show the states with the most new daily COVID-19 cases. Daily cases are a 7-day average to smooth out day-to-day variations in the data.
Credit NPR
This heat map show the states with the most new daily COVID-19 cases. Daily cases are a 7-day average to smooth out day-to-day variations in the data.

Yellowstone County Establishes COVID-19 Thresholds That Would Trigger Restrictions

Health officials in Montana’s most populated county established coronavirus case count trigger points on Oct. 5 that if surpassed would cap group gatherings and limit the number of people in bars, restaurants, casinos and places of worship. It’s part of an effort to slow the virus’ spread.

Yellowstone County Health Officer John Felton on Oct. 5 said hospitals and case investigators can’t keep up with the county's daily average of 36 new cases per 100,000 people. Read more

'Not A Big Deal'

With the presidential election just over a month away and COVID-19 cases rising again in Montana, Republican voters along the Kootenai River appear nonchalant about the latest development in Washington, D.C., and don’t see it altering their views on the virus or their day to day lives. In 2016, 72.5 percent of Lincoln County, which encompasses Troy, Libby, Eureka and the Bull River Valley up to the Canadian border, voted for Trump.

Just hours before the show of support, Trump was hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Supporters cruising the streets of Libby said they aren’t worried about his health. Read more

Update 10/04/20

Montana on Saturday reported another 501 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, setting a daily record. The state health department announced another 298 new cases Sunday, bringing the total number of active cases statewide to more than 4,800.

The recent rise in case counts is straining Montana’s health care system. On Friday Billings Clinic announced it’s partnering with a retirement living and care center to open additional bed space. Billings Clinic staff are caring for roughly a dozen non-COVID, less acute hospital patients at St. John’s United.

Statewide 191 people are hospitalized with the virus that’s killed 187 Montanans.

Update 10/02/20

Coronavirus Strains Montana Hospitals Heading Into Flu Season

Hospital administrators in Montana say the recent rise in COVID-19 infections statewide could strain the health care system in coming weeks as patients become more ill and cold and flu season picks up. Health experts are making a plea for Montanans to “do their part” after more than 700 people have been hospitalized with the virus since it arrived in the state. Read more

COVID-19 Surge Leads To Stay Home Orders, Closed Schools On Fort Peck Reservation

Montana state health officials flagged six counties Wednesday as areas of significant COVID-19 growth. A hotspot in northeast Montana is grappling to get its case number under control. Read more

Report: Severe Negligence Fueled COVID Outbreak At Whitefish Care Facility

A federal report from early September says severe negligence at a Whitefish long-term care facility directly contributed to a COVID-19 outbreak. At the time of the findings, four residents had died from the virus. Read more

The Mask Hypocrisy: How COVID Memos Contradict the White House’s Public Face

While the president and vice president forgo masks at rallies, the White House is quietly encouraging governors to implement mask mandates and, for some, enforce them with fines. Read more

Update 10/01/20

The Montana health department's website Thursday showed 171 schools K-12 have reported COVID-19 cases, compared to 121 a week ago. Close to half of the 309 cumulative cases associated with public schools were at high schools.

Flathead and Great Falls high schools report the highest number of cases while Yellowstone County has had the most schools associated with confirmed cases.

Reports show 344 cumulative cases have been associated with universities in Montana. The University of Montana accounts for more than a third of the cases, followed by Montana State University in Bozeman.

The rise in cases associated with schools is part of a state-wide trend.

Montana broke another record Thursday with 429 lab-confirmed cases. It’s the first time the state has surpassed the 400 mark in a day, and the seventh time in the last eight days the state has exceeded 300 cases in a single day.

The Fort Belknap Indian Community Thursday said it will go into a complete shut down for 14 days starting Saturday. A public notice said Blaine County and Fort Belknap have had a rise in positive COVID-19 cases in the last week. The shutdown is intended to help with contact tracing and to slow the virus’s spread

COVID-19 has killed 181 people and infected over 13,500 so far in Montana.

Update 09/30/20

Montana broke its one-day record of new COVID-19 cases today, with 348 positive results from 3,232 tests. This is the sixth time in the last seven days the state has exceeded 300 cases in a single day.

Some tribal nations are increasing restrictions due to a rising number of cases.

The Fort Peck and Assiniboine Tribes returned to phase 1 Tuesday. That puts non-essential employees, residents and businesses under stay-at-home orders on the Fort Peck reservation and limits gatherings to 10 people or fewer.

The Blackfeet COVID-19 Incident Command on Monday instituted a reservation-wide two-week quarantine.

The Northern Cheyenne Tribe extended its curfew and lockdown through October 5.

According to the state health department, at least 3,635 people in Montana are sick with the COVID-19 illness. That includes 170 hospitalized patients.

Update 09/29/20

The State of Montana reported 321 new lab-confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus Monday from over 2,730 tests. The state has recorded more than 300 cases per day for five of the past six days.

Some school administrators are responding to an increase in COVID-19 cases connected with schools by temporarily suspending in-person instruction. Poplar School District and Butte Central High School are both in their second weeks of remote instruction, and Conrad Public Schools switches to remote learning Wednesday.

Poplar School District in northeast Montana will resume providing school lunch Wednesday after multiple lunch staffers were quarantined with COVID-19 and unable to distribute meals Monday. Superintendent Dan Schmidt says the school will pull in several substitutes and staff to help hand out grab and go lunches.

The operator of the private Crossroads Correctional Center in Shelby confirmed today that 26 of its inmates are ill from COVID-19. In a press release, CoreCivic said it conducted 196 tests last week and the individuals who tested positive were asymptomatic.

According to the state health department, at least 3,454 people in Montana are sick with the COVID-19 illness. That includes 166 hospitalized patients.

Updated 9/28/2020

The State of Montana reported 306 new lab-confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus Monday from 6,889.

The state has recorded more than 300 cases a day for four of the past five days.

The Hill County Health Department is conducting contact tracing at a Havre senior living facility after discovering several new COVID-19 cases in residents and staff there. That’s according to Northern Montana Hospital, which announced Sunday [9/27] that it moved Northern Montana Care Center residents with known positive cases into a separate unit while other residents remain in their rooms.

In Roosevelt County, the Poplar School District announced Monday morning it would be unable to serve lunch due to a high number of quarantined staff. District Superintendent Dan Schmidt says although students are currently at home for remote instruction, roughly half the student body still comes to the school to grab lunch.

As of Monday afternoon, school staff had not yet figured out an alternative. Roosevelt is one of the six counties state health officials flagged last week as areas of significant virus growth.

That list also included Yellowstone County, which the state reports added 40 new cases Monday. According to state numbers, Toole County added 31 new cases of COVID-19 and Flathead added 28.

Counties sometimes announce their COVID-19 numbers at a local level before they have a chance to report to the state, leading to discrepancies between county and state case counts.

The Missoula City-County Health Department announced 59 new cases of COVID-19 Monday, 12 of which are University of Montana cases added since Friday.

The Glacier County Health Department said 52 residents have tested positive for COVID-19 since Friday.

In Montana, 3,400 people are sick with the COVID-19 illness. That includes 158 hospitalized patients.

Update 09/24/20

Newly confirmed coronavirus cases in Montana have spiked to another record and health officials report that the number of infections tied to schools more than doubled in just a week.

State officials reported 333 new confirmed cases of the respiratory virus on Thursday, topping the previous single-day record set less than a week ago.

The number of schools with associated cases rose from 58 last week to 121. The overwhelming majority of those campuses reported new cases in the past two weeks.

COVID-19 has killed 165 people and infected more than 11,000 people so far in Montana. The number of infections is thought to be far higher because studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

Governor Says Montana Jobs Bouncing Back, Economists Say It's Still Early

Montana’s governor says the state’s employment rate is in a healthier place compared to many other states after the coronavirus pandemic led to government mandated business closures earlier this year. Some economists say it’s too soon to draw conclusions. Read more

With Cases Spiking, Blackfeet Tribe Orders 14-Day Shutdown Of Entire Reservation

The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council announced Thursday a mandatory 14-day shutdown of the entire Blackfeet Indian Reservation, which will begin Sunday at midnight. The Blackfeet Nation reported a spike in cases today with 86 active cases on the reservation. According to a Facebook post from the Blackfeet COVID-19 Incident Command, public health officials recommend a two-week shutdown due to the high infection rate of COVID-19.

In a Facebook live video posted Monday, Tribal Chair Tim Davis urged tribal members to continue wearing masks, washing hands, and to stay away from large social gatherings.

"We need to be vigilant, diligent, and following the recommendations of our health experts."

According to a news release from the business council, law enforcement will issue citations and fines to those who do not comply with the mandatory shutdown. The council said more details about the shutdown will be released on its Facebook page.

The St. Mary and Babb communities in the Blackfeet Nation were placed under a mandatory 14-day quarantine last week.

Update 09/23/20

The State of Montana reported 214 new lab-confirmed cases Wednesday from 3,151 tests. At the state level, Yellowstone County tops the list of counties with most new cases, at 45. Rosebud County follows with 21 new cases and Flathead with 20.

Cascade City-County Health Department today announced 19 new COVID-19 cases and Tuesday announced 59 new cases. The health department said a third of yesterday’s numbers are connected to a cluster at the local jail.

Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter yesterday said there are currently 68 people with active cases of COVID-19 at the Cascade County Detention Center. Cascade County health department also said that social gatherings during the recent Labor Day weekend and symptomatic people failing to quarantine themselves may be responsible for the uptick in cases.

The state has announced 165 total deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, and deaths in Yellowstone county are responsible for 62 of those. The Yellowstone County health department today said a woman in her 60s died in a Yellowstone County hospital Tuesday.

The state releases an update on positive cases in Montana schools today. As of last Wednesday, data show there are a total of 194 positive cases associated with 59 schools. Universities accounted for roughly half of those cases.

The state reports almost 11,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 to date.

Update 09/22/20

Montana's chief medical officer says the state is seeing a “remarkable increase" in COVID-19 cases. Over the past week, the state has averaged just over 200 cases per day and has a total of at least 10,700 confirmed cases of the respiratory virus. Health officials attribute the increased cases to schools reopening, Labor Day gatherings and increasing spread in congregate living settings, such as nursing homes and jails.
COVID-19 Deaths In Montana Surpass Highway Fatalities

As COVID-19 cases continue to trend upward in Montana, state health officials say they’re concerned that outbreaks could further stress the state’s already thin health care system. Read more

Update 09-21-20

Schools on the Fort Peck Indian reservation in northeast Montana say they’re switching to fully remote learning for two weeks due to an increase in COVID cases. Frazer Public Schools informed parents of its decision in a letter over the weekend. Fort Peck Community College announced its transition to online classes Monday.

Following a recent surge in cases the Blackfeet COVID-19 Incident Command wrote on Facebook today that it’s heard people asking about a possible reservation-wide quarantine and said the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council is working with Public Health Officials on the matter. The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council posted an update reiterating that tribal members should wear masks and observe social distancing.

The State of Montana announced 130 new lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 Monday from 8,449 tests run.

Yellowstone County’s public health department announced that two women in their sixties and one man in his seventies died in county hospitals over the last few days from illnesses connected with COVID-19.

Yellowstone County added 22 cases today, Cascade added 18 and Roosevelt added 17, according to state numbers. Some counties list different numbers because of lags in uploading data at the state level. The Glacier County Health Department on Monday announced 26 new cases while the state reported 16 for the county.

Statewide, 2,393 people are sick with the COVID-19 illness and 108 patients are hospitalized. There have been 10,429 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 160 deaths from the disease in the state since the beginning of the pandemic.

Update 09-16-20

The state reported 190 new lab-confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus Wednesday from 2,035 tests.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock announced Wednesday that from now on the state will post weekly demographic info about positive COVID-19 cases in schools and universities.

According to the Missoula City-County Health Department, as of Wednesday there are 24 new cases connected with the University of Montana since last week.

2,104 people are sick with the COVID-19 illness statewide. That includes 106 hospitalized patients. Montana has confirmed 9,431 cases of the novel coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic.

Yellowstone County added 82 new cases, Rosebud added 39 and Cascade added 18.

On Tuesday, Crow Tribe Chairman Alvin Not Afraid lifted the stay-at-home order for the tribe, due to the decline in the number of active cases. The tribe's curfew and related travel restrictions remain in place.

The Northern Cheyenne Nation reported Tuesday night that the tribe has seen 41 new cases, 6 deaths and 65 recoveries since last Friday.

Montana Now Reporting School COVID-19 Case Numbers

State health officials Wednesday published information about COVID-19 cases and outbreaks in individual public grade schools and universities. The report shows that 68 of the state’s roughly 147,000 public school students have tested positive for COVID-19, along with another 96 cases in Montana's colleges and universities. Read more

Update 09/15/20

The state reported 139 new lab-confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus Tuesday from 2,474 test results. 1,954 people are sick with the COVID-19 illness statewide. That includes 109 hospitalized patients. Montana has confirmed 9,244 cases of the novel coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic.

Missoula County added 30 new cases today, Rosebud reported 27, Yellowstone 19 and Cascade 17.

The Montana Standard reports that an outbreak at the Connections Correction program for drug treatment in Butte is responsible for 12 of those cases. That’s on top of seven reported cases at that program last week.

Tuesday, the Yellowstone County Health Department reported a man and a woman in their 90s died in senior living homes late last month. The department says the two deaths are being counted for the first time in today’s number of COVID-associated deaths.

Montana's Public Schools Are Out Nearly $800,000 After COVID Aid Rule Change

Public school students in Montana may miss out on roughly $800,000 in federal aid for laptops, masks and educational services amid the coronavirus pandemic. That’s according to a calculation from state education officials after the U.S. Department of Education’s plan for sharing emergency aid with private and home schools was thrown out in court. Read more

Update 09/14/20

A few weeks after opening, some schools are temporarily switching to remote instruction from in-person classes due to positive cases among students and staff. Schools reporting on-site closures include Colstrip Public Schools, Jefferson High School and Great Falls Public Schools.

Colstrip Public Schools announced at least one positive case of COVID-19 among cafeteria staff, who are quarantining, and suspended in-person classes for students until Wednesday. Great Falls Public Schools also went remote until Wednesday. It reports positive COVID cases in its student body. It says that time will allow for contact tracing and cleaning. Jefferson High School said a member of its community tested positive for COVID-19, and so it switched to remote instruction Monday, but will return to in-person Tuesday.

The state reported 86 new lab-confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus today from 5,746 test results. 2,127 people are sick with the COVID-19 illness statewide. That includes 138 hospitalized patients. Montana has confirmed 9,107 cases of the novel coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic.

Yellowstone County added 27 new cases today, Silver Bow county added 22 and Big Horn County added 9. Cascade County reported 23 new cases over the weekend, and the Missoula County health officer says the county reported about 32 new cases over the weekend.

She points to the county’s two new rapid testing machines and a delay at the state lab as one reason for a discrepancy between its numbers and state numbers.

Yellowstone County has the most active cases at 818. On Monday, the county health department announced that a man in his 70s passed away at a hospital over the weekend due to COVID-19 related illness. The county reports 52 total deaths.

The Flathead City-County Health Department announced Saturday that a 87-year-old care center resident had died in a Kalispell hospital.

138 people in the state have died from the virus.

Update 09/11/20 3:45 p.m.

The Montana state health department reported 124 new lab-confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus Friday from around 1,300 test results.

The Flathead City-County Health Department announced Friday that the county recorded four more deaths related to an outbreak at Whitefish Care and Rehabilitation, a long-term care facility. The facility's executive director has said the outbreak stemmed from an asymptomatic staff member. That brings the total number of deaths there to 10.

At least 131 Montanans have died from the illness since the beginning of the pandemic.

Around 1,900 people are sick with COVID-19 in the state, that includes 142 hospitalized patients.

Governor Issues New Guidance On School COVID-19 Disclosure

Some public school districts and public health officials in Montana say medical privacy laws are preventing them from working together when a positive COVID-19 case is found in a school. On Thursday, Gov. Steve Bullock’s office released new guidance on the issue. Read more

Update 09/10/20 5 p.m.

Montana has confirmed 8,663 cases of the novel coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic. The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services reported 196 new lab-confirmed cases of the virus Thursday from 2,203 test results. That’s the second highest number of new cases Montana has reported in one day.

Yellowstone County added 75 new cases today, Rosebud added 25 and both Big Horn and Silver Bow counties added 15 new cases.

In Montana, 1,808 people are sick with the COVID-19 illness. That includes 163 hospitalized patients.123 people have died since the beginning of the pandemic.

Update 09/08/20 5 p.m.

Montana has confirmed 8,381 cases of the novel coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic.

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services reported 66 new lab-confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus Tuesday [09/08] from 1,655 test results.

In Montana, 1,992 people are sick with the COVID-19 illness. That includes 161 hospitalized patients.

The Yellowstone County health department said on Saturday a record 71 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized in area hospitals, including 28 county residents..

Yellowstone also announced several deaths over the last few days. It reports that a senior living facility resident in her 80s passed away from a COVID-related illness in a county hospital Monday. It also reports a woman in her 50s died in a hospital Saturday and another woman in her 50s died Friday. 119 people in the state have died from the virus.

Today, Rosebud County reports the highest number of new cases at 10. Cascade follows at 8 and then Gallatin County at 7. Big Horn, Cascade, Flathead, Rosebud and Yellowstone counties all report more than 100 active cases. Petroleum and Carter are the only counties that have yet not reported a positive case of COVID-19.

Some school districts have discovered positive cases among their student bodies.

Among those are Great Falls Public Schools, which announced a couple of days ago two of its students tested positive. The school together with the health department are conducting contact tracing.

Flathead County City-County Health Department confirmed that 88 students were quarantined due to being contacts of individuals who tested positive. Some of the quarantined students were connected to three students who tested positive over the last few days.

Lincoln County Health Department reported two people who tested positive over the weekend are students at Libby Middle/High School and officials are contact tracing.

Northern Cheyenne Tribal Councilman Lane Spotted Elk announced free testing events are scheduled in every district on the Northern Cheyenne reservation between Wednesday and Friday.

No COVID-19 Outbreak Detected After Montana Fair, Health Official Says

Two weeks after roughly 40,000 people attended the Northwest Montana State Fair and Rodeo in Kalispell, health officials are saying the event did not lead to a COVID-19 outbreak in the county. Read more

Update 09/04/20, 7 p.m.

Montana has confirmed 8,019 cases of the novel coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic.

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services reported 149 new lab-confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus Friday from 4,328 test results.

In Montana, 2,084 people are sick with the COVID-19 illness statewide. That includes 150 hospitalized patients. 114 people in the state have died from the virus.

Yellowstone County reports that a woman in her 50s passed away at her home Monday. The Flathead City-County Health Department said one person died in a long-term care facility in connection with a recent COVID-19 outbreak at the facility.

Yellowstone County has the most active cases at 1,011 and added 30 new cases today.

Deer Lodge County reported 24. Rosebud reported 16 new cases. Petroleum and Carter are the only counties that have yet not reported a positive case of COVID-19.Deer Lodge County added 24 more cases Friday related to an outbreak at a detention facility. Deer Lodge County Public Health Department confirmed Friday that 42 offenders and 3 staff members at the Sanction, Treatment, Assessment, Revocation and Transition Center north of Anaconda tested positive for COVID-19. START is under contract with the Montana Department of Corrections and serves as a holding and assessment facility for males who have violated conditions of release.

On Thursday, the Yellowstone County Health Officer voided a previous order banning spectators at school sports and issued another order leaving COVID-19 mitigation plans up to school districts.

On Friday, Billings Public Schools announced it would allow two local family members per player at games. As described in a district notice, physical distancing will be required, and face masks must be worn if social distancing between non-household members isn’t possible.

Lewis and Clark County also reversed course and will now allow limited fans at school sporting events.

Update 09/03/20, 5 p.m.

Health officials in Yellowstone County, which reports nearly half of Montana’s active coronavirus cases, are expecting to see a rise in infections now that school has begun. At the same time, the county is relaxing a previous ban on spectators at school sporting events.

Schools statewide have been reporting -- but not always publicly announcing -- positive cases among staff and students since in-class instruction began over the last few weeks.

Yellowstone County Health Officer John Felton said Thursday the health department is seeing the same pattern in Yellowstone County.

"I’m quite anxious about September quite frankly. We know that schools are places of congregation. Places of congregation are where the disease spreads."

Felton said the current benchmarkers that determine whether students continue in-school instruction is in the yellow on a stoplight scale. He said if those indicators trend red, schools may have to consider going back to remote learning.

Despite that, Felton on Thursday reversed a previous ban on fans at school sporting events.

"With the variability of resources and needs, it would make more sense for each district to develop a plan for activities and athletics based on the class in which it participates and its own resources in order to have more consistency across the classes and districts."

Felton also said Yellowstone County hospitalizations account for 43 percent of the state’s 151 current hospitalizations, and while the hospitals have been busy treating positive cases from in and outside the county, they still have capacity.

He also said they’ve hired about a 100 temporary part-time staff to help conduct contact tracing and case investigations, though the county still reports needs beginning to outpace capacity for case investigations, contact tracing and testing capacity.

Statewide, more than 2,000 people are ill with COVID-19. The state health department announced 184 new lab-confirmed cases Thursday from 1,500 test results, bringing the number of confirmed cases to 7,900.

Gov. Steve Bullock announced on Thursday a new loan program to spur economic recovery in the wake of the coronavirus, as applications for unemployment assistance increased in Montana for the third consecutive week. The U.S. Employment and Training Administration says nearly 2,400 Montana residents submitted new applications last week, an increase of 3% from the previous week. The Montana Working Capital program will provide loans of up to $500,000 to businesses impacted by the virus. Health officials reported 184 coronavirus cases statewide Thursday.

Update 09/02/20 5:30 p.m.

Montana has confirmed 7,691 cases of the novel coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic. The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services reported 183 new lab-confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus Wednesday from 1,577 test results. In Montana, 1,998 people are sick with the COVID-19 illness. That includes 150 hospitalized patients.

Yellowstone County has 72 new cases today, Rosebud has 31 new cases and Flathead has 15. Yellowstone County has the most active cases at 955. Big Horn, Cascade, Flathead, Rosebud and Yellowstone counties all report more than 100 active cases. Petroleum and Carter are the only counties that have yet not reported a positive case of COVID-19.

109 people in the state have died from the virus since the start of the pandemic.

DPHHS today announced the first death from COVID-19 to occur at Montana State Hospital. DPHHS reports that the patient, who passed Monday, was a resident of Lewis and Clark County, and said it would not share more information for the sake of privacy.

The Flathead City-County Health Department says that four county residents who tested positive reported attending last month’s NorthWest Montana Fair. Event organizers say around 40,000 people attended the fair over its five-day run.

Update 09/01/20 5 p.m.

Montana has confirmed more than 7,500 cases of the novel coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic. 105 people in the state have died from the virus.

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services reported 93 new lab-confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus Tuesday from 2,058 test results. In Montana, 1,945 people are sick with the COVID-19 illness statewide. That includes 140 hospitalized patients.

Both Yellowstone and Flathead Counties added 12 new cases today. Cascade County added 11. Yellowstone County has the most active cases at 989. Petroleum and Carter are the only counties that have yet not reported a positive case of COVID-19.

The Crow Tribe of Indians signed a resolution yesterday establishing a reservation-wide curfew and restriction of non-essential travel. It’s in effect until Sept. 14.

The Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy’s Reservation yesterday finalized amendments to their August 27 transition into Threat Level 4 on the reservation. Level 4 calls for a stay at home order and curfew to be enforced by law enforcement, requires face coverings when in public spaces, bans social gatherings and limits business and travel to essential only. The Chippewa Cree Business Committee previously established a curfew and have issued temporary restrictions throughout the summer as the virus surged and ebbed through the reservation community.

Update 08/31/20 6:30 p.m.

Montana has confirmed more than 7,400 cases of the novel coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic. At least 104 people in the state have died from the virus.

The state reported 82 new lab-confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus today from 3,577 test results. At least 1,987 people are sick with the COVID-19 illness statewide. That includes 134 hospitalized patients.

Yellowstone County added 27 new cases today, Big Horn county added 13 and Flathead County added 11. Yellowstone County has the most active cases at 976. Over the weekend, the county health department announced that a man in his 90s passed away in a Yellowstone County hospital Friday due to COVID-19-related illness. The county reports 43 total deaths.

Petroleum and Carter are the only counties that have yet not reported a positive case of COVID-19.

On Saturday, Hardin School District announced that multiple students had tested positive for COVID-19. The district wrote in a statement Big Horn County Health Department says the positive confirmations may have a large impact on students and staff that may have come in contact with ill students. The school district reports the students last had in-person contact with students and staff on Thursday.

Colstrip Public Schools announced Saturday a teacher there tested positive. The district says Rosebud County Health Department conducted contact tracing and the school district cleaned the school building.

The Northern Cheyenne Tribe on Saturday announced it would set up road security checkpoints due to rising case counts. In a Facebook post, tribal council member Lane Spotted Elk announced the tribe would establish checkpoints in Lame Deer and then in more areas in the coming days. He asks people to limit non-essential travel. On Monday, he announced 139 active cases, 12 hospitalizations and 4 deaths from the virus within the tribe.

The Blackfeet Reservation also put measures in place to protect against the COVID-19 illness. The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council extended its closure of tribal offices until further notice Friday by resolution. It also limited non-business indoor groups to family members, established a $100 fine for failing to follow the mask requirement and set the curfew for non-essential workers to 10 p.m.

Update 08/27/20 4:30 p.m.

Gov. Steve Bullock says Montana will not adhere to a recent change in guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that would stop testing for asymptomatic people, even if they were in close contact with a confirmed case. According to the Associated Press, the CDC director has tried to clarify the recommendation, saying that "testing may be considered for all close contacts of confirmed or probable COVID-19 patients. " However, the updated guidance online remains unchanged.

Bullock said during a Thursday press conference that the change in guidance doesn't make sense.

“We can prevent large outbreaks by continuing to test asymptomatic contacts and finding cases earlier."

According to the Associated Press, governors in a handful of other states have also said they will not follow the new controversial coronavirus testing guidelines from the CDC.

Bullock said the state will begin holding asymptomatic testing events again. These events were suspended due to a backlog at the lab that was processing specimens. He said there will be an asymptomatic testing event in Fort Peck next week.

Montana reported 143 new lab-confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus today from more than 2,347 test results. At least 1,807 people are sick with the COVID-19 illness statewide. That includes 119 patients who are hospitalized.

Yellowstone County added 43 new cases today, and with has about half of all active cases in the state, with 889. Rosebud County added 29 new cases and Gallatin County added 16.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 98 people have died.

Montana had been trending downward in its daily test count since the beginning of August. But after the state health department resolved an electronic reporting error that cleared a backlog, the state’s daily test count is trending upward, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

Montana high schools will play football in the fall despite state health officials’ concerns. Health officials from the state’s seven biggest counties had previously asked Montana High School Association officials to consider moving football to the spring. The MHSA decided not to hold a vote for it at a board meeting earlier this month. Missoula Health Officer Ellen Leahy said the MHSA did not consult with public health officials prior to their announcement to play ball come fall. MHSA executive director Mark Beckman said the board deliberated at length whether to postpone the football season.

Update 08/26/20 4 p.m.

Montana reported 162 new lab-confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus today from 1,753 test results. At least 1,704 people are sick with the COVID-19 illness statewide. That includes 125 patients who are hospitalized.

The state department of corrections is suspending inmate transfers to state prisons from Yellowstone County Detention Center in Billings, Cascade County Detention Center in Great Falls and Big Horn County Jail because all three are experiencing outbreaks of COVID-19. According to corrections spokesperson Carolynn Bright, there’s not a set expiration date for the suspension.

A student in the Hardin School District has tested positive for the virus, according to a news release from Superintendent Eldon Johnson. The release says that a small number of staff and students were in close contact with the person.

The state recorded a death today in Flathead County, although the death was reported by local county officials last weekend. The person who died had been living in a long-term care facility.

Statewide, 97 Montanans have died due to COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.

Yellowstone County added 48 new cases today today and has roughly half of all active cases in the state, with 847. Flathead County added 32 new cases. Rosebud County added 31 new cases.

Update 08/25/20 4 p.m.

Montana reported 136 new lab-confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus today from 2,834 test results. At lease 1,636 people are sick with COVID-19 statewide. That includes 119 patients who are hospitalized.

One inmate at the Missoula County Detention Facility has tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office. The person had been in contact with a confirmed case and was isolated immediately after booking.

The Cascade County sheriff announced Monday that two employees and 53 inmates tested positive for COVID-19 at the Cascade County Detention Center.

A COVID-19 outbreak has also been reported at the Yellowstone County Detention Center.

Two residents at an assisted living facility in Kalispell have tested positive for COVID-19. Immanuel Lutheran Communities said in a news release that one of the residents initially tested negative, but was later hospitalized for unrelated health issues and tested positive there. Three employees with Immanuel Lutheran tested positive for the virus last week.

Yellowstone County announced that five people on Tuesday over the age of 60 have died due to COVID-19. One death was tied to the outbreak at Canyon Creek Memory Care in Billings, which has now had 17 residents die due to COVID-19. Two of the other reported deaths were also living in long-term care facilities in Yellowstone County, but those facilities were not named.

Stillwater County Public Health announced in a news release that a second person there has died due to the virus. The person was in their 70s and had few underlying conditions.

Statewide, 97 people have died since the beginning of the pandemic.

The superintendent of Hardin public schools, Eldon Johnson, announced in a news release today that bus services in the school district are cancelled for the remainder of the week. The release says the buses do not have all the necessary safety equipment installed.

Update 08/24/20 5 p.m.

Montana reported 52 new lab-confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus Monday. At least 1,556 people are sick with COVID-19 statewide. That includes 114 patients who are hospitalized.

Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter said in a news conference Monday that 53 inmates and two employees at the Cascade County Detention Center have tested positive for the virus. Paul Krogue, medical director for the facility, said the jail had taken precautions to prevent the spread of the virus.

"But unfortunately with this type of a virus and this type of a setting there was just no way to mitigate that risk to zero."

Slaughter said testing of inmates and staff began after the first positive case was discovered there on Aug. 20. He said the detention center has implemented new isolation procedures and gave inmates masks to wear, which they didn’t have before.

The detention center holds 443 people today, according to its roster.

Yellowstone County officials have announced that around 30 men tested positive for the virus at its jail in Billings.

Big Horn County Senior Living in Hardin announced in a news release Monday that three employees there tested positive for COVID-19. The release says the long-term care facility has been testing asymptomatic employees since July 15 and that practice will continue. Big Horn County has been especially hard hit by the virus and has the second highest number of active cases of any county with 173.

Two more people have died in Yellowstone County due to COVID-19, both were women over the age of 60, according to a news release from Riverstone Health. Yellowstone County has counted 36 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Statewide, there have been 91 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

The state reported counting nearly 23,000 tests today, although positive results from most of those tests have already been recorded. The state generally reports no more than a couple thousand tests each day.

Jon Ebelt, spokesperson for the state health department, said the increase is due to an electronic reporting issue that was resolved. The issue had caused a backlog in reporting the full number of daily tests since Aug. 1. Ebelt said the number also ballooned because new labs are running tests. Positive results were caught in a separate reporting system and were not held up in the backlog, Ebelt said.

Ebelt said the reporting issue is partially to blame for the decline in daily test numbers in Montana over the last month, but the state was also running fewer tests because it had to cancel its asymptomatic testing events.

Update 8/23/20 9 p.m.

Montana added more than 200 lab-confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus this weekend from more than 2,000 tests run, according to the state health department.

One hundred eleven people are currently hospitalized with the respiratory illness caused by the virus and 90 people have died from it, according to state data.

On Saturday the Flathead City-County Health Department announced a resident at a long term care facility, where a COVID-19 outbreak had been identified, died. The department said it will NOT release the name of the facility or further details at this time.

More than 30 inmates at the Yellowstone County jail in Billings have tested positive for COVID-19.

Sheriff Mike Linder said Friday about 30 of 70 men in one housing unit tested positive. He says they are not showing symptoms. Four women also tested positive after showing symptoms. Patients were moved into isolation.

Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter says an inmate tested positive for COIVD-19 after showing symptoms. Other inmates are being tested.

County health departments are warning residents to take extra caution, like staying home more than usual and wearing a mask when in public spaces, as classes start up for many schools this week.

Park County Health Officer Laurel Desnick says if students do get COVID-19 it’s most likely they will get it at home from the grownups in their lives.

Montana has reported more than 6,400 known cases of COVID-19.

Update 08/21/20 5 p.m.

Montana reported 142 new lab confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus Friday from 1,067 test results.

More than 1,300 people are sick with COVID-19 statewide. That includes 97 patients who are hospitalized. About 6 percent of all cases in Montana have resulted in a hospitalization, according to the state health department.

Three employees working at a Kalispell assisted-living facility have tested positive for COVID-19, according to a news release from Immanuel Lutheran Communities. The cases were discovered as part of a required employee-testing program.

One Immanuel Lutheran resident tested positive in July, but other residents have since tested negative.

The Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell reported today that 14 residents and staff at nursing home Whitefish Care and Rehabilitation have tested positive for COVID-19. Montana Public Radio was not able to independently confirm the information.

Missoula officials announced today that a third person in the county has died due to the virus. The county health department did not release additional details about the death.

Yellowstone County added the most new cases of any county Friday with 51. The county continues to see the highest number of active cases with 677. Flathead County added 17 new cases, and Big Horn and Rosebud counties both added 15.

Phillips County has had one of the highest rates of new cases per resident in the country, according to a New York Times analysis.

The state has recorded 89 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Petroleum and Carter counties are the only two that have yet to report a single case of COVID-19.

Montana Schools Prep For Learning Losses As Classroom Instruction Returns

It’s been about six months since most Montana students sat inside a classroom and as school doors reopen, teachers are eager to see if students fell behind while learning remotely. Montana Public Radio’s Aaron Bolton reports on districts’ plan to tackle the so-called “COVID slide.” Read more

Update 08/20/20 5 p.m.

Montana reported 117 new lab confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus today from 1,027 test results.

The state added five new deaths today. Yellowstone County announced that a man and a woman both in their 60s died after being hospitalized due to COVID-19. The county now tallies 34 deaths. Big Horn County also added two deaths and Rosebud County added one, according to state data. The state has recorded 89 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Twenty-five counties have four or more active cases of the virus, meaning they’re subject to the statewide mask mandate.

At least 1,549 people are sick with COVID-19 statewide including 101 patients who are hospitalized.

Yellowstone County added the most new cases today with 42, and the county continues to see the highest number of active cases with 690. Flathead County added 18 new cases, Rosebud County added 13 and Phillips County added eight.

The daily number of new cases in Montana has begun to plateau over the past couple of weeks. The daily number of new tests has declined during the same time period, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

The Montana University System will consider a variety of factors to determine whether college campuses become unsafe for in-person classes this fall amid the pandemic. A higher education official told state lawmakers Thursday that universities need to stay flexible.

Rep. Tom Woods, a Democrat from Bozeman and an instructor at Montana State University, asked Deputy Commissioner of Higher Education Brock Tessman during an interim committee if there’s a set threshold that would trigger campuses to close for in-person classes.

Tessman said there’s not, but that university system officials will watch the number of new cases, hospitalizations, and a college’s capacity to test and trace the virus, among other factors.

“The recipe is complex and we want to maintain flexibility in terms of our decision making," Tessman said.

If an outbreak does occur, Tessman said closures could happen in phases. For example, a single classroom could move to online learning while the rest of campus remains open.

Montana’s two largest universities began their fall semesters this week.

Producer Partnership Seeks 400 Cows To Donate To Montana Food Centers

After years of declining, Montana’s food insecurity rate is up more than 50 percent. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, as many as 165,000 people in the state could go hungry this year. That’s an estimated 56,000 more people than before the crisis. Now, a rancher from Park County is rallying support to do something about it. Read more

Update 08/19/20 5:15 p.m.

Montana reported 111 new lab confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus today from 1,021 test results.

Big Horn County added its 14th death due to the virus. The man was in his 60s and had been hospitalized prior to his death.

Yellowstone County added the most new cases today, with 56. The county has by far the most active cases at 650.

At least 1,515 people are sick with the COVID-19 illness statewide, including 102 patients who are hospitalized.

The number of new daily cases in Montana has started to plateau over the last few weeks, according to the COVID Tracking Project. However, the state’s daily count of new tests has also declined. The state has seen a steady increase in active hospitalizations since early July.

Montana Candidates Split Over Mask Mandate

Montana’s mask mandate is now just over a month old. While public health experts and studies say masks are key to slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus, some people are pushing-back against the rule. Candidates for governor and attorney general also have opposing views on the role of state government during the pandemic. Read more

Update 08/18/20 4 p.m.

Montana reported 57 new lab confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus today from 787 test results. At least 1,556 people are sick with COVID-19 statewide including 97 patients who are hospitalized. The state has recorded 84 deaths due to the virus since the pandemic began.

Cascade and Roosevelt counties each added a new death today. The Cascade City-County Health Department announced that a man over the age of 65 with underlying health conditions was the fifth person in the county to die from the virus. The Roosevelt County Health Department posted on Facebook that officials had confirmed that county’s first death due to the virus. No additional details were released.

The tribal health board for the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation voted unanimously Monday to revert the reservation back to phase one of reopening. Stricter rules will be in place for the next two weeks, including a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. and the closure of tribal buildings and casinos.

Kaci Wallette, a member of both the health board and tribal executive board, said tribal officials had previously decided that a count of 10 active cases or more would trigger more stringent rules. Wallet said the reservation had confirmed 14 active cases before Monday’s vote.

Montana Families May Be Eligible For More Food Assistance

Montana has distributed more than $20 million in federal aid to keep school aged children fed during pandemic. State health and education officials are urging more families to apply for nutrition assistance.

Montana families who lost access to free or reduced-price school meals due to school closures during the 2019-2020 school year have about a month left to apply for money to help repay the costs of meals.

The federal Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer, or P-EBT program, launched earlier this year in response to COVID-19. It offers a one-time-only reimbursement of $330 per school-aged child/per household.

Montana health and education department officials say over 61,000 children in the state have benefitted from the program. They say thousands more are likely eligible. To qualify, children must attend schools that participate in the National School Lunch program.

Applications must be submitted no later than September 21.

Update 08/17/20 5:00 p.m.

Montana reported 43 new lab confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus today from 2,801 test results.

At least 1,548 people are sick with the COVID-19 illness statewide, including 94 patients who are hospitalized. The state has recorded 82 deaths due to the virus since the pandemic began.

Flathead County added the most new cases on Monday, with 15. Yellowstone County continues to see the highest number of known positive cases in the state with 648 active. Big Horn County has the second highest number of active cases, with 231.

The state confirmed more than 200 new cases over the weekend.

The state of Montana has applied for federal grant money to add $400 per week to individual unemployment benefits.

President Donald Trump ordered the boost in payments a week ago. People had been receiving an added $600 per week in unemployment payments under the CARES Act, but that expired at the end of July.

Trump directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to make $44 billion available to states from its Disaster Relief Fund to help pay for the $400 boost, and asked states to kick in a quarter of the cost. Montana will use federal coronavirus relief funds to pay its share.

According to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, the $400 boost in benefits could end in a matter of weeks if FEMA funding runs out or if Congress creates a new assistance program. The payments will expire no later than Dec. 27.

More than 36,000 people filed an unemployment claim in Montana for the week ending Aug. 1, according to the state.

Update 08/14/20 5:30 p.m.

Montana is reporting 134 new lab confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus today from 2,041 test results.At least 1,449 people are sick with COVID-19 statewide including 86 patients who are hospitalized. The state has recorded 81 deaths due to the virus since the pandemic began.

Missoula County added its second death due to the virus. The Missoula City-County Health Department did not release any additional information about the resident who died. The county added 11 new cases today and has 122 that are active.

Yellowstone County continues to see the highest number of positive cases in the state at 579 active. Big Horn County has the second highest number of cases at 194 active.

Carter and Petroleum counties are the only two in Montana that have not reported a single case of COVID-19.

The state’s seven-day rolling average of daily tests has declined over the last week although the seven-day average of new positive cases is more than 100 per day, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

Missoula County Public School officials have mapped out the first four weeks of the upcoming school year. It will implement a blend of remote and physical classroom instruction.

Superintendent Rob Watson today said that so-called "hybrid" model includes staggered classes, a strict regime of physical distancing, mandatory mask use and regular deep cleaning of facilities.

How, or if, protocols change after the first month of instruction will depend on COVID-19 case counts within the district.

Officials are bracing for a greater demand for childcare in the wake of these significant changes. Boys and Girls Club of Missoula County, Missoula YMCA and City Parks and Rec are all coordinating with the school system to offer expanded services and financial assistance to qualifying families. Those and other local childcare providers are following similar health precautions as the school system.

Gov. Steve Bullock this week announced $50 million will be available to increase childcare services in response to COVID-19.

Update 08/13/20 5:30 p.m.

Montana is reporting 142 new lab confirmed cases of the coronavirus today from 1,784 test results announced this morning. There are now 1,389 active cases of the respiratory illness in the state. Only Carter and Petroleum counties have not reported lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic

Yellowstone County had the highest number of new cases at 37, followed by Big Horn County at 13, Gallatin at 12 and Phillips at 11.

Yellowstone County has the most active cases with 546 with Big Horn County second at 189. 101 people are hospitalized statewide.

The death of a Yellowstone County man brings the total number of deaths in the state to 81. A press release says the man was in his 60s and was hospitalized at the time of his death.

Malmstrom Air Base in Cascade County lowered its COVID threat level from Charlie to Bravo this week. According to the air force, that means it’s loosening some restrictions because transmission on the base is low. Changes include allowing socially-distant dining at restaurants if seated outside and socially-distant gatherings of up to 100 people outside or 30 people inside. Masks are still required.

New applications for unemployment assistance declined in Montana last week.

The U.S. Employment and Training Administration says 1,611 people filed new applications during the week ending Aug. 8, a decrease of 14% from the week before.

Just over 135,000 people have been unemployed at some point since the pandemic began, which represents nearly 30% of the workforce that is eligible for unemployment insurance.

The Montana Department of Labor made 35,900 unemployment payments totaling over $17.5 million last week, the first week that the additional $600 in federal unemployment benefits were no longer available. Previous weekly payments had been over $40 million.

Update 08/12/20 6 p.m.

Montana reported another 175 lab-confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus from 1,624 test results announced this morning.

Yellowstone, Ravalli and Flathead counties each announced a new death related to COVID-19, bringing the statewide total to 80 since the since the start of the pandemic. A total of 97 people are currently hospitalized with the respiratory illness.

Yellowstone County’s health department says due to an electronic reporting error, most of the 75 cases reported in its region today are from tests conducted as far back as August 1.

The state’s 7-day rolling average of new tests has dropped over the past week even as the average number of new cases over the same period has held at more than 100 a day, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

'Priority' COVID-19 Testing Can Still Mean Long Waits For Results

A Kalispell assisted-living facility breathed a small sigh of relief Wednesday when its residents’ COVID-19 tests came back negative. Those results took more than a week to return. Read more

Gov. Bullock Extends Mask Mandate To Schools In Qualifying Counties

Gov. Steve Bullock changed his stance on masks in schools Wednesday, and the governor is now directing students attending class in counties with four or more COVID-19 cases to wear masks.

Bullock issued a mid-July directive mandating Montanans wear masks inside businesses and other public buildings that reside in counties with four or more COVID-19 cases. The directive did not apply to schools at that time, he said. Read more

New Grants Available for Live Entertainment Businesses Hit By Pandemic

Montana is allocating new economic assistance for businesses in the live entertainment industry.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock Aug. 12 announced the state will expand grants using federal coronavirus relief dollars to prop up businesses hurting from the economic downturn sparked by the pandemic. Read more.

Updated 8/11/2020 at 9:00 p.m.

Montana is reporting 97 new lab-confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus from just over 1,000 test results announced on Tuesday.

That brings the statewide total to nearly 1,500 people now sick with the COVID-19 illness, including 77 current hospitalizations.

Big Horn County has been especially hard hit and on Monday announced the county’s 13th death from the virus: A man in his 70s who had been hospitalized prior to his death. Lewis and Clark Public Health announced the county’s second COVID-19 related death today, giving no further details.

The state health department reports 77 people across Montana have died from the coronavirus. State and county numbers will not always match up, in part because of timelines for reporting the data.

Phillips County added 27 new cases for a total of 55. Yellowstone County added 21

All but two of Montana's 56 counties have now recorded a case of the virus.

The Montana Department of Labor and Industry sent out $17.5 million in unemployment payments last week, down from more than $40 million the week prior.

This is the first week of payments without the additional $600 weekly benefit authorized by the CARES Act.

The number of people filing unemployment claims in Montana spiked in late March and April during government mandated business closures.

Nearly 45,000 people filed an unemployment claim the week ending July 25, according to the latest data from the Department of Labor and Industry.

Update 08/10/20 5:15 p.m.

Montana surpassed 5,000 known COVID-19 cases and has reported 75 deaths. Yellowstone County officials say two of the most recent deaths involved residents of long-term care facilities, including the 16th death tied to an outbreak at Canyon Creek Memory Care. A woman in her 80s who lived at Canyon Creek died at a Billings hospital last week. A man in his 90s died at another senior care facility. Officials did not name the facility. Eighty people are hospitalized with the respiratory virus, including 44 in Yellowstone County.

Northern Cheyenne President Rynalea Pena on Sunday ordered a reservation-wide lockdown through Wednesday, August 19, citing a surge in COVID-19 cases and people not following existing health mandates meant to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The heightened order implements road checkpoints on tribal and Bureau of Indian Affairs roads and will phase-in controlled access onto the reservation in south-east Montana. Travel is restricted to essential needs only and non-residents will be asked to leave the reservation, according to the new order.

The tribe’s stay-at-home order will continue when the lockdown lifts Aug. 17. The stay-at-home order calls for face coverings when in public spaces, a curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and a recommendation for tribal members to avoid coronavirus ‘hot spots’ like Yellowstone and Big Horn counties.

The Chippewa Cree Tribe is also under lockdown until Wednesday morning. The Crow Nation is under lockdown until August 21.

CSKT Stay-At-Home Order Lifted

Employees of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes went back to work Monday as a stay at home order on the reservation was lifted. There are still restrictions in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The CSKT Tribal Council decided back in late June that the stay-at-home order would be lifted July 13, but a spike in COVID-19 cases throughout Lake County following the July 4 holiday delayed the rollback. Read more

Phillips County’s resident population spiked from zero cases of the novel coronavirus to 48 over the last week, according to the Phillips County Health Department Facebook page. The health department says its staff is investigating the cases. It’s closed its offices this week and postponed services like immunizations.

Keystone XL pipeline developer, TC Energy, reported two of its workers tested positive for coronavirus in late July. Spokesperson Sara Rabern says those are the two only cases TC Energy discovered among its workers in Montana, and it’s confident it’s not the cause for the current case count in Phillips County.

The company says it put protocol in place to prevent the introduction or spread of coronavirus in the area, including quarantining workers before they enter worksites.

Update 08/07/20 7:03 p.m.

Montana reported 155 new lab-confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus Friday, and just over 1,500 active cases of the respiratory illness.

The Cascade County Health Department announced its fourth death due to the illness on the same day. The over-65 man had underlying health conditions. The death was related to a recent outbreak at a Cascade County long-term care facility, according to the department.

Flathead and Yellowstone counties saw the biggest jump in new cases, with both adding 21 on Friday. Missoula County followed with 20, and Phillips County reported 16 new cases.

Only three counties report no lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19: Carter, Petroleum and Mineral.

The Toole County Health Department is warning people who attended a recent car show that they may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus.

Health officials said contact tracing investigations discovered several people who recently tested positive - and were in the early part of their incubation - were at the Shelby Car Show the first weekend of August.

The department says those in attendance may have been exposed to the virus at the event. It advised people to watch for symptoms such as headache, cough, sore throat, body aches and chills through August 15, and to call their provider if they develop symptoms.

Toole County is reporting 10 active cases of COVID-19.

Virus Spread Forces Lockdown On Crow Reservation

The Crow Tribe ordered its members to lock down for two weeks beginning Friday, as tribal leaders moved to slow a sharp spike in coronavirus cases and deaths on yet another reservation in the country. Read more

Collegiate Football's Big Sky Conference Postponed Til Spring

The Big Sky Conference has postponed its football season to spring 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The conference includes Montana State University and the University of Montana. Read more

Postal Service Loses $2.2B In 3 months As Virus Woes Persist

The U.S. Postal Service says it lost $2.2 billion in the three months that ended in June as the beleaguered agency — hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic — piles up financial losses that officials warn could top $20 billion over two years.

But the new postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, disputed reports that his agency is slowing down election mail, or any other mail, and said it has “ample capacity to deliver all election mail securely and on time” for the November presidential contest, when a significant increase in mail-in ballots is expected. Read more

Update 08/06/20 5 p.m.

Health officials in Cascade county say a third resident has died due to a COVID-19 outbreak at a long-term care facility in the area. The Cascade City-County health department has not named the facility.

Local and state health officials have continued to warn of the virus’ threat to the elderly amid the recent surge in cases. According to the most recent state health department analysis from the end of July, people age 60 and over accounted for more than 95 percent of the deaths in Montana from the virus.

Nationwide, 8 out of 10 COVID-19 related deaths are among adults aged 65 and older, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Gov. OK's All Mail Voting
Kevin Trevellyan - Yellowstone Public Radio

Montana counties can now conduct all-mail-ballot general elections in November, thanks to a directive issued by Gov. Steve Bullock on Thursday.

During a press call, the governor said it is increasingly unlikely the coronavirus pandemic will subside enough by November to hold a traditional polling place election without serious risk to public health.

“It only makes sense that we start preparing now to ensure that no Montanan will have to choose between their vote or their health,” Bullock said.

In July, county clerks and recorders asked Bullock to allow counties the option of an all-mail-ballot election to avoid crowding and increased exposure to the virus. They said it may be difficult to secure polling places for a traditional election, and that hundreds of election workers would sit out due to health concerns.

County elections officials made a similar request to conduct the June 2 primary by mail. Bullock agreed, issuing a similar directive then, and every county opted in.

The all-mail-ballot primary, the first in Montana history, saw a record turnout that was 10% higher than the last presidential primary election.

Bullock said mail ballots for the general election will go out Oct. 9, adding Montanans will still have the option to vote in-person in all counties.

--

State Will Spend $20 Million To Support University Reopenings
Kevin Trevellyan - Yellowstone Public Radio

Montana is sending up to $20 million in federal coronavirus relief to the state’s public universities to support reopening efforts this fall.

During a press call with Gov. Steve Bullock, State Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian said the university system will prioritize rapid testing, quarantining and contact tracing of symptomatic individuals.

“Our research and consultations have led to testing strategies that focus on trying to keep individual cases from turning into clusters, and to try and keep clusters from turning into bigger outbreaks,” Christian said.

The commissioner did not have an estimate for how many students and faculty will be tested each day, but said Montana State University will process results around the clock. Bullock said there needed to be a two- to three-day turnaround on test results.

The university system is also working to boost testing capacity for asymptomatic people, according to Christian.

He emphasized that testing is only one component of coronavirus safety. Students must also socially distance, wear masks, wash hands regularly and self-screen daily.

Christian said the testing strategy will require a significant increase in staffing and partnerships with local public health entities.

Two Keystone XL Construction Workers Test Positive For Coronavirus

The developer of the Keystone XL oil pipeline confirmed Aug. 5 that two of its workers in northern Montana tested positive for the novel coronavirus last week.

In a statement, pipeline developer TC Energy says the first pipe yard worker tested positive at a local clinic last July 28 and the company took protective measures when it learned about the results. That included shutting down activity at the site in Phillips County. Read more.

Update 08/05/20 5 p.m.

Montana reports two more deaths from COVID-19, bringing the state’s death total to 66. Richland County Health Department reports a woman in her 80s has died. Yellowstone County’s health department reports a man in his 60s died early Wednesday morning in a Yellowstone County hospital.

Today Montana reported 115 new lab confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, with Yellowstone County reporting the most with 25 new cases and Gallatin and Big Horn County each reporting 13. Phillips County, which previously reported being COVID-free, now has five new cases.

The state is reporting more than 1,500 active cases, with nearly 600 of those located in Yellowstone County.

Update 08/04/20, 6:15 p.m.

A long-term care facility in Cascade County has an outbreak of the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. The Cascade City-County Health Department Tuesday reports 6 COVID-19 cases associated with the unnamed facility.

The department isn’t naming the facility, citing health privacy laws. Local officials say they're working with the facility to prevent further spread.

While the bulk of Montana’s recent cases are people in their 20s, people over 60 make up the majority of the state’s COVID-19 related deaths. Outbreaks have ravaged senior care facilities in Toole and Yellowstone county.

Montana is reporting 82 new lab confirmed bases of the coronavirus today, and nearly 15-hundred active cases of the respiratory illness. Big Horn County had the highest number of new cases at 15, followed by Lewis and Clark at 11, Flathead at 9 and Yellowstone at 8.

Sixty-four people have died of the virus in the state and 780 are hospitalized. Yellowstone County has the most active cases with 567, with Big Horn County second with 213. Prairie County reported its first active case. Only Petroleum, Phillips, Mineral and Carter counties report no lab confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Update 08/03/20, 5:35 p.m.

COVID-19 Leads To Changes In Fire Camps, Community Briefings

Wildland firefighters already follow a lengthy list of safety and wardrobe rules: the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has just made it a little longer.

New sleeping arrangements, meal deliveries and personal gear have all become part of the summer routine, according to Mike Goicoechea, a Type-I incident commander with the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Region. And while Montana has yet to engage in the typical August smoke and flames, crews have already got experience with the new protocols on fires in the Southwest. Read more

Billings Shuts City Hall, Library After Employees Infected

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Officials in Billings shut down city hall and the public library for cleaning after three public employees in Montana’s largest city tested positive for the coronavirus.

City hall was scheduled to re-open to the public Thursday following cleaning work and then operate two days a week under limited hours until August 17.

The library was to stay closed to the public until August 17.

The move came after two custodial employees and one information technology employees tested positive for the coronavirus, Billings officials said. It was unclear where or when they contracted the virus.

State Says Montana Rental Assistance Program Largely Unused

Montana set aside $50 million in federal coronavirus relief funding to help people make their rent or mortgage payments during the economic upheaval caused by coronavirus. But through the end of July the program has paid out just over $1.2 million, about 2.4% of the available funds, state figures show.

So far, about 750 Montana residents have submitted valid applications for the funding, a fraction of the 131,000 who have applied for unemployment at some point since mid-March as the pandemic ravaged the global economy. Read more

The state reported a total of 1,516 active cases Monday, including 69 hospitalizations. There have been 64 COVID-19 deaths in Montana.

Update 07/31/20, 6:08 p.m.

Montana officials reported 153 new COVID-19 cases Friday, bringing the state’s total number of active cases to just over 1,500.

State numbers showed 71 current hospitalizations, and 60 coronavirus-related deaths. Roughly 2,300 people are considered recovered.

Gov. Steve Bullock’s office issued an educational directive Friday. It relaxed in-person learning requirements for students, who are starting a new school years amid coronavirus concerns.

The governor’s order waived a law requiring students living outside the school districts they attend to physically go to class. The move means a remote-learning choice is now available to more students: Children who live in the same county as their school district, or in a neighboring school district, can now opt for distance learning.

In-classroom learning for the coming school was part of Montana’s phased reopening plan announced last April. The new directive is meant to give schools flexibility in balancing remote learning with in-person learning, Bullock said.

He explained school districts can now decide whether students return for in-person instruction, virtual learning or a hybrid of the two.

Update 07/30/20, 6 p.m.

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana health officials have announced two more deaths due to COVID-19, bringing the total number of deaths in the state to 57. The Big Horn County health department reports that two men in their 60s died after contracting the virus.

The state reported 138 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, for a total of 3,814 since the pandemic began. Thirty-four people have died from COVID-19 in Montana since July 6, including 13 in the past seven days.

The economic fallout from the coronavirus has hurt the state. Officials say just over 2,300 people applied for unemployment benefits last week, a decrease from the previous week.

Kalispell Assisted Living Facility Announces Positive COVID-19 Test

An independent and assisted living facility in Kalispell announced one of its residents has tested positive for COVID-19. The facility is home to roughly 300 residents who live in apartments or private rooms. Read more

Update 07/29/20 5:20 p.m.

HELENA, Mont. (AP) & Corin Cates-Carney

Montana officials announced two more deaths due to COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the total number of deaths related to the respiratory virus in the state to 54. More than half of the deaths have happened since July 6.

During a press conference in the governor’s office Wednesday, state officials addressed young people’s role in the pandemic and the importance of face coverings in slowing the spread of the virus.

Caty Gondeiro, a 23-year-old from Helena, tested positive for COVID-19 in early July. She spoke during the press conference.

"I think it’s really important that people my age, in the 20-29 age group to understand that we’re driving the spread of this."

According to the latest state health department analysis of COVID-19 cases, people in the 20 to 29 age group make up 28 percent of all cases in Montana - the most common age group infected with the virus.

The analysis says no one in the age group has died from the virus in Montana and persons who required hospitalization for COVID-19 are generally much older than those who did not need hospital care.

Montana schools preparing to reopen this fall have until this Friday to apply for the first round of funding to cover costs associated with the pandemic.

Gov. Steve Bullock said during today's press conference that public and accredited private schools can request the aid. The $75 million dollars available to help schools reopen comes from the federal CARES Act.

The money can be used for adapting schools and helping students, parents and educators create a place for students to learn amid the complications of COVID-19.

A second deadline for the funds is August 14. The governor says payments will be made to schools in August.

Montana election officials are calling on Gov. Steve Bullock to allow counties the option of running the November election by mail. Bullock said Wednesday that he’ll decide by August 10.

"Those discussions will be occurring soon to ensure that they have enough time to prepare for a safe election."

Montana clerks and recorders made a similar request to conduct the June 2 primary by mail due to concerns of crowds at polling places and exposure to the novel coronavirus. Bullock agreed and every county opted for all-mail ballot elections.

According to the Secretary of State’s office election calendar, ballots must be sent to military and overseas electors by September 18. Other absentee ballots must be available for in-person voting by October 5.

Update 07/28/20, 5:30 p.m.

The Montana health department announced 41 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday. Two counties announced deaths from COVID-19. The Yellowstone County health department says a woman in her 90s died at a Billings hospital on Saturday. The woman's death was the 18th in 20 days in the county. Lincoln County on Sunday received report of a COVID-19 related death there, a man in his 80s.Montana's total number of reported cases is nearing 3,400, and 61 people are hospitalized. More than 1,200 people are still infected.

The Montana University System’s Board of Regents finalized COVID-19 guidelines for public higher education across the state today. Work to coordinate how those guidelines will play out is ongoing.

The guidelines for the 16 universities and colleges within the state’s higher-ed system cover everything from campuses’ ability to mandate face coverings to how schools will isolate students who test positive.

The Board unanimously voted in favor of the guidelines and gave University System Commissioner Clayton Christian the ability to adapt those guidelines as conditions in the state change.

With just three weeks to go until classes start, Deputy Commissioner Brock Tessman says officials are still working on strategies for testing and educating students on new protocols and rules.

"This is probably going to be the biggest student-based communication campaign we’ve ever engaged in. I think that highlights how important it is to our campuses to make sure students understand what it’s going to take."

Most campuses across the state will begin classes the third week of August.

Update 07/27/20, 5 p.m.

Montanans traveling to Washington, D.C. for non-essential reasons must now quarantine for 14 days upon arrival to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Montana is considered a COVID-19 hotspot based on criteria set by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser in a traveler self-quarantine order effective today.

Find More Montana coronavirus & COVID-19 news and see what's open and what's closed due to coronavirus in Montana.

Get more Montana coronavirus information from the state health department, as well as updates from the CDC and tips for preventing and dealing with COVID-19.