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Montana Coronavirus And COVID-19 News

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

02/17/21

Thousands Tune In For Fauci's Virtual UM Lecture

An estimated 6,000 people spent their lunch hour with Dr. Anthony Fauci on Wednesday. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease specialist, headlined a noontime online lecture hosted by the University of Montana’s Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center. Read more

02/16/21

A shipping snafu has forced Butte-Silver Bow health officials to cancel a COVID-19 vaccination clinic scheduled for Wednesday.

Local health officials expected to take delivery of 500 doses of the Moderna vaccine Tuesday afternoon but that shipment did not arrive. They’re not sure what caused the delay, but winter storms are disrupting vaccine distribution in many parts of the country.

That first dose vaccine allotment was scheduled to be distributed Wednesday at the Butte Civic Center. Health officials spent Tuesday afternoon rescheduling those appointments.

However, the agency tells MTPR a vaccine clinic to distribute second booster vaccines Wednesday at the Civic Center will continue as planned. Those individuals are asked to arrive at the same time they received their first shot.

The Montana Health Department on Tuesday confirmed 120 new COVID 19 cases, as well as 7 additional deaths.

A total of 1,331 Montanans have died from coronavirus related illness since the start of the pandemic.

A total of 53,480 Montanans are now fully immunized after getting both doses.

02/12/21

Gov. Lifts Statewide Mask Mandate, Local Directives Remain In Place

Gov. Greg Gianforte repealed Montana’s mask mandate Friday. Many Montana health officials say it’s too soon, and some are keeping local masking requirements.

Gianforte’s directive, issued Friday morning, says, "Montanans are encouraged to wear masks." That’s a departure from the face covering requirement issued by former Gov. Steve Bullock last July. Read more

First Vaccine Dose Given To Around 70% Of Long-Term Care, Assisted Living Residents

An updated count of vaccine uptake in Montana's vulnerable settings shows about 70% of residents in long-term care and assisted-living facilities have opted to receive COVID-19 vaccines. Older Montanans have been especially hard-hit by the virus. Read more

Number Of COVID-19 Cases At Montana Capitol Grows

A fifth Montana lawmaker has tested positive for COVID-19. Republican Sen. Ross Fitzgerald last worked in the Capitol in-person February 5.

Republican leaders announced that Fitzgerald, from Fairfield, got tested for the coronavirus on Wednesday after being identified as a close contact of another unnamed lawmaker who contracted the virus. Read more

02/10/21

Gov. To Lift Statewide Mask Mandate Friday

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte announced Wednesday that he will lift the statewide mask mandate later Friday. The timing comes as Gianforte signs a bill into law to protect businesses from COVID-19 litigation.

Mask mandates will remain in effect in many localities across the state. Read more

Montana Colleges See Enrollment Decline Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Montana’s flagship universities released their spring 2021 enrollment numbers this week, with both reporting fewer students than a year ago. MTPR's Aaron Bolton reports on how those schools are faring through the COVID-19 pandemic. Read more

Fourth Lawmaker Contracts COVID As Contact Numbers Grow

A fourth Montana state lawmaker has tested positive for COVID-19 after working in-person at the Capitol in Helena. Nearly two dozen close contacts have been identified in connection with positive cases tied to the Capitol. Like many Republican lawmakers, Rep. Becky Beard does not wear a mask in the building. Read more

02/09/21

A shot of brutally cold Arctic air descending from Canada will result in some extremely dangerous wind chill readings this week. The National Weather Service says wind chills minus 50 F to minus 60 F are possible in places like Polebridge, Great Falls, Harlowton and Rocky Boy. Widely scattered snow showers could also make for dangerous driving conditions.

Public health officials managing some COVID-19 clinics are watching the forecast and have decided to tweak plans in order to avoid unnecessarily putting people at risk.

The Missoula City-County Health Department, for example, is canceling its remaining mobile COVID-19 testing services this week in Seeley Lake, Lolo, and Frenchtown. A press release Wednesday said the agency’s mobile testing unit faced significant challenges traveling to Clinton Tuesday morning.

The services will resume when the agency deems it safe to do so.

A last-minute decision in Lewis and Clark County has led to a second-dose vaccine clinic venue change this week. This affects those who received their first doses at drive through clinics on January 19 and 20. Anyone scheduled to receive their second Pfizer dose this Thursday and Friday must go to the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds, instead of Carroll College.

The Park City-County Health Department has also announced a weather related change to its COVID-testing location. Those Services will be provided at the agency’s downtown office in Livingston this Thursday and Friday

The Montana Health Department Tuesday confirmed 383 new COVID-19 cases and one additional death since Monday.

Some Vets Look Beyond VA For COVID-19 Vaccine

The Montana VA Health Care System is running temporary clinics to get shots to vets in rural areas. But amid the nationwide vaccine shortage, some vets are confused about the process and are looking outside of the VA to get a shot. Read more

Helena Businesses Say Lawmakers Are Flouting COVID Restrictions

Some Helena businesses are raising concerns about state legislators flouting public health guidance amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Lewis and Clark County health officer says she's received reports concerning lawmakers who are in town for the current legislative session. Read more

02/08/21

The health officer of Montana’s largest county offered words of cautious optimism Monday during a local COVID-19 update.

Yellowstone County has lost more residents to the pandemic than any other county in the state; 228 as of this recording. But County Health Officer John Felton says January saw improved metrics almost across the board.

"I do feel good about the way things are going."

Felton told reporters Monday that not only did Yellowstone County not see a post-holiday surge of new COVID-19 cases last month, but that the daily average of new cases dropped below 25 per 100,000 population for the first time since September.

At the peak of Yellowstone County’s surge in November, over 150 people in Billings were hospitalized with COVID-19. Today local hospitals are treating 30 patients. Other metrics, including active and daily new cases, as well as the rate of positive test results are also improving.

Vaccine availability, however, is still a sticking point across Montana. Demand far outweighs supply.

Yellowstone County does not have a mask mandate. Asked if that could jeopardize the recent local gains against the COVID virus Felton said, "It’s still important that we all do our part to prevent the spread of disease — which does include masking when we’re around other people; distancing, sanitizing and those sorts of efforts."

A COVID liability protection bill is headed to Gov. Greg Gianforte for his signature. It’s one measure Gianforte says needs to be in place to lift the statewide mask mandate.

During a Monday forum hosted by City Club Missoula, Providence Montana Chief Executive Joyce Dombrouski, weighed-in against lifting that mandate.

"I just don’t think we’re ready, because there’s too many unknowns that continue to come at us, which is the instability in our vaccine supply as well as the new [viral] variants."

Montana’s vaccine allocation has risen slightly in recent weeks, with more than 16,000 first doses expected to be distributed this week.

The Montana Health Department Monday confirmed 111 new COVID-19 cases and no new additional deaths since Sunday.

02/05/21

The Montana Health Department Friday confirms 362 new COVID-19 cases, but no additional deaths. At least 1,307 Montanans have died from coronavirus-related illness since the pandemic’s start. While case counts are lowering in some communities, others are seeing rising caseloads. Local health officials caution Montanans against getting too complacent.

Gallatin County’s seven-day rolling average for new COVID-19 cases for Thursday was 30.5 cases per 100-thousand. That’s a 15-percent decrease from just a week ago and a far cry from the 75 cases per 100-thousand back in early December.

"We’re at a better place, but we’re not out of the woods yet."

That’s Gallatin City-County Health Officer Matt Kelley. Kelley told reporters Friday that metrics for Gallatin County’s testing capacity, case positivity, reported COVID cases in long term care facilities and hospital bed capacity are all trending in the right direction.

The Gallatin City-County Health Board this week voted to allow businesses to remain open until 2 a.m. instead of 10 p.m. A mask order and business capacity requirements are still in place.

Kelley says it was a difficult -and risky- decision. Table limits of 6 people, 50-percent capacity limits and existing masking rules are all still in place. He says the Board won’t hesitate to revisit it if need be.

"They did it once, we defended it in court once and we’ll do it again if we need to."

Lewis and Clark Public Health meanwhile has lowered quarantine times for individuals exposed to COVID-19 from 15 to 10 days in line with CDC guidance. This after the number of positive cases has fallen in recent weeks in Lewis and Clark County.

Valley County health officials however say their community is "headed in the wrong direction." Health officials in that northeast Montana county report at least 58 active cases.

In a strongly worded Facebook post Thursday they said younger people are refusing to cooperate with testing, isolation, quarantine and contact tracing measures. The agency’s statement read in part, "We have people who claim to be patriots but neglect to acknowledge their responsibility to participate in a civilized society the way that best protects everyone, especially those who are vulnerable."

02/04/21

The Montana health department Thursday confirmed 313 new COVID-19 cases, as well as five additional deaths.

Just over 1,300 Montanans have died from coronavirus-related illness since the pandemic began.

The state’s COVID tracking website reports just over 3,400 active cases statewide.

Over 32,000 Montanans are now fully immunized after receiving both vaccine doses.

02/02/21

Montana confirmed 317 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday. At least 1,249 Montanans have died since the pandemic began.

The state has administered over 110,000 vaccine doses but demand continues to outstrip supply.

Gov. Greg Gianforte announced today a limited amount of additional vaccine supplies is on the way. Gianforte said the state now has federal approval to redirect nearly 20,000 unused COVID-19 vaccine doses to Montanans.

These doses were originally provided to CVS and Walgreens pharmacies under federal contract to vaccinate residents and staff in long-term care and assisted living facilities.

"Nearly 10,000 more vulnerable Montanans will be fully vaccinated as a result of this reallocation. In the coming days we will be releasing these doses to hospitals across the state," Gianforte said.

The pharmacies have held vaccination clinics at all but one of Montana’s roughly 200 long-term care and assisted living facilities. Gianforte says half of those residents and staff have elected to get vaccinated. CVS and Walgreens will revisit every facility two more times.

The reallocated vaccine doses will only be administered to Montanans who are 70 years of age and older, 16 years old and up with a high-risk of underlying medical conditions, Native Americans and other persons of color who may be at elevated risk for COVID-19.

Researchers & Businesses Help Boost COVID-19 Testing Capacity In Montana

Even with vaccine doses rolling out, testing is still critical for tracing and containing the coronavirus. But throughout 2020, the White House Coronavirus Task Force consistently said that Montana wasn’t testing enough to contain the spread. Now, institutions statewide have set up their own testing, and are reporting the results to county health departments. Read more

02/01/21

Montana confirmed 106 new COVID-19 cases Monday, adding to the 191 new cases Sunday, 490 cases on Saturday and 353 cases Friday.

Over 1,230 Montanans have died since the pandemic began. Provisional data from a state health department report show COVID-19 deaths will be at least the fourth leading cause of death in Montana in 2020.

The Roosevelt County Health Department reports a steady uptick in COVID cases in January. Health officials say cases that arose from holiday gatherings in December were followed by increases due to the resumption of classes. However, they say the largest increase now is connected to youth basketball. At least 59 recent cases along the Hi Line have been traced back to a high school basketball game. The Valley County Health Department says the January 15 match between Dodson and Frazer led to cases in the Fort Belknap Indian Community, and Valley, Blaine and Phillips counties. Twenty-three of those casese were in Phillips county.

Kayla Young is the Phillips County emergency preparedness coordinator.

Young says, "All 23 are already cleared and back to work or sporting events and stuff like that. As fast as it came, it’s quickly already gone away."

Montana High School Association Executive Director Mark Beckman says most high school teams are playing and following COVID requirements and protocols. He says the system is generally working well, adding it’s difficult to detail a specific number of confirmed student athlete cases.

"A lot of that information, as you know, is personal and confidential. And so, we know the quarantine, but we wouldn’t know if there was one kid or 10 kids. Most of the time it’s one kid, or two, that then are diagnosed and then they do contact tracing and quarantine the other team members or any close contact."

MHSA has issued rules and regulations to minimize exposure to COVID — like suspending handshakes, and guidelines for sanitizing basketballs — but there are no testing requirements for players, staff or referees. Beckman says testing requirements would be cost prohibitive, and that administrators are successfully minimizing exposure.

"You will never stop transmission with this type of disease. But to minimize it and be able to help with their mental and emotional well-being is extremely important for our students at this time."

Montana Representatives Endorse COVID-19 Liability Protection Bill

The Montana House of Representatives has advanced a bill that aims to protect businesses from liability in COVID-19 related lawsuits. The policy is key in Gov. Greg Gianforte’s plan to remove the state’s mask mandate. The bill would add to the burden of proof for claimants who contract COVID-19 and want to sue a business, church, nonprofit or other organization for negligence in preventing the spread of the virus. Read more

Counties Create Priorites, Procedures For Who Gets COVID-19 Vaccine Next

Montana counties are taking varied approaches about who in the current COVID-19 vaccine distribution Phase 1B should receive the very limited number of doses each week. Read more

Montana’s COVID-19 Vaccine Allotment Increasing, Remains Limited

Gov. Greg Gianforte says Montana is seeing a trend of lower hospitalizations and new COVID-19 cases but is not getting enough vaccine from the federal level. Gianfore says that Montana is receiving a lower allotment of vaccine per 100,000 people compared to most other states according to CDC data. Officials say they don’t know why Montana is receiving less, and Gianforte says he sent a letter to President Joe Biden requesting more doses Thursday. Read more

01/29/21

Gov. Greg Gianforte says Montana is seeing a trend of lower hospitalizations and new COVID-19 cases but is not getting enough vaccine from the federal level.

Gianforte announced in a press conference Friday that Montana is passing a COVID-19 vaccine landmark.

"Today we are approaching a milestone with nearly 100,000 vaccines administered here in the state and nearly 25,000 Montanans who have been fully immunized."

Gianfore says that Montana is receiving a lower allotment of vaccine per 100,000 people compared to most other states, according to CDC data. Officials say they don’t know why Montana is receiving less, and Gianforte says he sent a letter to President Joe Biden Thursday requesting more doses.

Gianforte says hospitals and county health departments are reporting they could receive double their current vaccine allocation rate and still be effective in their distribution.

"I'm encouraged that this week, virtually all long-term care facilities and nursing homes will have had at least one vaccination clinic with the second one scheduled. So the vaccine is getting to the most vulnerable."

Montana’s State Medical Officer, Greg Holzman, says in the first of week of February Montana is supposed to get over 15,000 first doses of the vaccine.

While this is a higher vaccine allotment than previous weeks, Gianforte’s COVID-19 task force says they are hoping the allotment will increase.

Holzman says while people wait to get vaccinated, it’s important to continue to protect themselves and others from the coronavirus.

"We highly encourage people to wear their mask, to stay socially distanced or physically distanced, to limit your being in crowded areas where you can't be socially distanced and where there's not good ventilation. And, of course, it's always good to continue to wash your hands."

The Montana state health department confirmed 353 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday as well as 17 more deaths from the coronavirus.

Unpredictable Delivery Hampers COVID-19 Vaccination Plans

Limited vaccine supply has been a problem, but some counties say it's the unpredictability of that supply that’s the real barrier to carrying out plans to vaccinate the public. Read more

Gov. Gianforte Orders Health Officials To Drop Flathead County COVID Lawsuits

State health officials are dropping lawsuits against five Flathead County businesses. Under former Gov. Steve Bullock the state alleged the bars, restaurants and convenience stores flouted state COVID-19 directives. The reversal comes at the direction of Gov. Greg Gianforte. Read more

01/28/21

The Montana state health department confirmed 404 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, as well as nine more deaths from the coronavirus. At least 1,210 Montanans have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

According to the state’s COVID tracking website, over 92,000 Montanans have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and over 21,000 are fully immunized after receiving both doses.

Demand for the vaccine continues to severely outpace availability. The state reports Montana’s federal vaccine allocation is about 13,000 doses per week.

Cascade County’s phone lines were overwhelmed Thursday morning after more than 8,000 people called around the same time to schedule vaccine appointments. The Cascade City-County Health Department is prioritizing residents over 70 for the limited vaccine supply.

Statewide, County health departments are asking residents to refer to official county websites for vaccine information in their local area.

01/27/21

The Montana health department confirmed 407 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, as well as 16 more deaths from the coronavirus. At least 1,201 Montanans have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

According to the state’s COVID tracking website, over 86,000 Montanans have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and nearly 18,000 are fully immunized after receiving both doses. Demand for the vaccine continues to severely outpace availability. The state reports Montana’s federal vaccine allocation is about 13,000 doses per week.

Lewis and Clark County health officials are warning residents about scam vaccine appointments offered by third party websites such as Eventbrite. Health officials encourage residents to rely only on official sources and to contact the police if they suspect their personal information was taken.

Every county is handling vaccine appointments a little differently. Some ask residents to call a scheduling number at a specific time, others offer online registration, while others reach out to residents when it's their turn. County health departments are getting incredibly high numbers of calls each day and are asking residents to refer to official county websites for vaccine information in their local area.

Health Department Resignations Slow COVID Vaccine Distribution

The monumental challenge of distributing COVID-19 vaccines has been complicated by uncertain and limited supply, but the biggest challenge for one rural county on the Rocky Mountain Front is starting over with an entirely new health department. Read more.

Montanans React to Governor’s COVID-19 Vaccine Plan Revisions

A recent revision to Montana’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan means frontline workers, who expected to receive the limited doses of the shot in the next several weeks, now face at least several more months of wait-time, while elders and people with underlying health conditions could be immunized before April. Read more.

01/26/21

The Montana health department reported 34 more deaths from the coronavirus and confirmed 374 new cases Tuesday. At least 1,185 Montanans have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

According to the state’s COVID tracking website, over 81,000 Montanans have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and nearly 16,000 are fully immunized after receiving both doses.

A survey conducted by Yellowstone County health officials found a majority of the state’s most populous county plans to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Of the 4,000 residents who responded, 69 percent say they will "definitely" get the vaccine, while another ten percent said they would "probably" get the vaccine.

Demand for the vaccine continues to severely outpace availability. The state reports that Montana’s federal vaccine allocation is about 13,000 doses per week.

A statewide order to wear masks while in public remains in effect. Health officials recommend frequent hand washing, maintaining six feet of distance from others and limiting time spent in crowds to prevent spreading the virus.

01/25/21

The Montana health department reported 47 more deaths from the coronavirus since Friday, and confirmed 166 new cases Monday.

A new tab on the state’s COVID tracker website Monday reports weekly vaccination numbers by county, including the number of those fully immunized after receiving both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Demand for the vaccine continues to severely outpace availability. The state reports Montana’s federal vaccine allocation is about 13,000 doses per week.

In Yellowstone County, Billings Clinic hired more staff to cover phone lines when vaccine scheduling opened to those in Phase 1B Monday morning. Billings Clinic CEO Dr. Scott Ellner says interest is extremely high.

"Between 7 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. we received 27,000 calls," Ellner says.

Billings Clinic, the largest health care system in Montana, is offering about 975 appointments this week. St. Vincent Healthcare, the other major hospital in Billings, didn’t receive any first doses from the state’s allocation this week.

Yellowstone County Health Officer John Felton said it’s “certainly disappointing” that the county is receiving a nearly 1,000 fewer doses this week than last.

Most counties and facilities are not scheduling appointments more than a week in advance due to supply unpredictability.

01/19/21

The Montana health department confirmed 295 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday. Seven more deaths were reported since Friday.

Montana’s health department says the state is moving into Phase 1B of its COVD-19 vaccine distribution plan this week, which includes those over 70, those between 16 and 69 years old with qualifying health conditions, Native Americans and other people of color.

Many larger counties reported all of their vaccine appointment slots were booked within minutes of posting them online.

County health officials say demand for the vaccine continues to outpace supplies allocated by the federal government.

Some counties, including Cascade and Lewis and Clark, are creating tiers within the phase to prioritize older citizens to receive the vaccine first.

Health departments are asking the public not to call about vaccines to avoid tying up phone lines.

Information about vaccine availability is on local county health department websites.

The state reports over 57,000 doses of vaccine have been administered since the vaccine became available in mid-December.

Health officials are asking Montanans to remember to wear masks, practice social distancing, wash hands and avoid crowds to prevent the coronavirus from spreading further.

01/15/21

A reserve of COVID-19 vaccines promised this week by the federal government doesn’t exist, according to reporting by the Washington Post.

The Montana state health department did not respond in time for broadcast to questions about how many vaccines Montana will receive in coming weeks.

Montana’s vaccine supply continues to be unpredictable and demand is outpacing supply, impacting how each county is able to vaccinate residents.

Brett Lloyd with the Lewis and Clark County Public Health Department said the county is creating tiers within Phase 1B [phases explained] to manage overwhelming demand, starting with the oldest residents, and moving to younger residents with underlying health conditions along with Native Americans and other people of color as time goes on.

"We fully realize we are not going to be able to get everybody all at once, even all of our high-risk folks, that's just too many people in the community. It's literally thousands of people. We only have a few hundred doses, so we are going to be as fair and equitable as we can, but we are very limited by how much supply we have," Lloyd said.

Friday morning the county opened an online registration to Lewis and Clark County residents over age 70 to sign up for a vaccine drive-through next week. All 900 vaccines were reserved within 10 minutes of the site’s launch.

Yellowstone County also announced Friday it does not have enough vaccine to move into Phase 1B. Gallatin County said it will not be able to initiate Phase 1B until the week of January 24th at the earliest.

The Montana health department confirmed 515 new COVID-19 cases Friday along with nine more deaths from the virus.

Paycheck Protection Program Reopens As Small Business Owners’ Optimism Wanes

The Paycheck Protection Program reopened Friday with a more finessed approach, as small business optimism is waning. One major difference in the program rebooted by Congress late last year is that the Small Business Association gave community banks an earlier start date. They are able to apply as soon as January 15, while larger institutions will begin submitting applications January 17. Read more

01/14/21

A contact tracer has been hired to track the potential spread of COVID-19 among Montana state lawmakers during the 2021 legislative session.

Director of the Legislative Services Division Susan Fox announced the hire to the Legislative Leadership COVID-19 Response Panel Thursday. The panel is charged with considering day to day operations related to the coronavirus throughout the session.

Fox said the contact tracer met Thursday morning with the state health department, which will help coordinate investigations of COVID-19 among lawmakers.

Two lawmakers have tested positive for COVID-19 as the session nears the end of its second week. However, only one of those lawmakers, Rep. David Bedey, of Hamilton, had been attending committee meetings in person. Rep. Fiona Nave, of Columbus, has been participating in the session virtually.

The contact tracer is contracted through Lewis and Clark County Public Health.

The Montana health department confirmed 431 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, along with eight more deaths from the virus.

More than 90 percent of beds at St. Vincent Health Care in Billings are full. Other major hospitals in Billings, Great Falls, Missoula, Helena and Bozeman are between 70 and 90 percent capacity.

01/13/21

Gianforte's New COVID-19 Directives Swap Mandates For Personal Responsibility

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte in a press conference Wednesday signaled his decision to remove and revise COVID-19 business restrictions put in place by his predecessor. Gianforte says this includes removing “arbitrary” capacity limits and restricted hours of operation.

The new directive goes into effect Jan. 15, but local health boards still maintain authority to enforce stricter mandates within each county. Read more

Bill Would Exempt Law Enforcement From Enforcing Public Health Guidelines

Montana lawmakers are bringing a slew of bills this session to modify the power of local health officers in a declared state of emergency, like the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. One bill introduced this week would remove legal penalties for law enforcement who refuse to enforce public health orders. Read more

Governor Says 11 Counties Moving To Next Phase Of COVID-19 Vaccine Plan

Gov. Greg Gianforte announced Wednesday that 11 counties will be ready to move into Phase 1B of Montana’s vaccination plan next week. This phase includes those over 70, those between 16 and 69 years old with qualifying health conditions and Native Americans and other people of color.

Gianforte says despite the uncertain vaccine supply availability, the state has now received enough first doses to vaccinate all the healthcare workers in Phase 1A. Read more

01/12/21

The Montana health department confirmed 439 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, along with 10 more deaths from the virus.

Tribal nations across the state, including the Crow, Northern Cheyenne, Chippewa Cree, Fort Belknap Indian Community, Blackfeet and Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes stepped into their next vaccination phase and began vaccinating elders against the coronavirus last week.

Tuesday, Yellowstone, Lewis and Clark, Flathead and Cascade counties’ health departments announced they will be ready to move into Phase 1B of the state’s vaccination plan once supplies are available, which may be as soon as Monday (Jan. 18). Phase 1B includes those over 70 as well as those between 16 and 69 years old with qualifying health conditions.

Health departments are asking the public not to call about vaccines, which are not yet available, in order to avoid tying up phone lines.

More than 13,000 vaccine doses have been arriving weekly in Montana, according to CDC records.

Montana’s Health Care Staffing Issues Persist, Despite Vaccines

Montana’s frontline health care workers are receiving their second doses of COVID-19 vaccines, guaranteeing fewer will become infected with the virus. But hospitals are not changing quarantine policies for vaccinated workers exposed to COVID-19, meaning staffing capacity will likely continue to be an issue in hospitals across the state.

When Montana began to see a surge in COVID-19 cases in mid-October, hospitals started to notice that bed capacity wasn’t their most pressing issue. It was maintaining their staff numbers as many workers became infected with the virus or were on quarantine after an exposure. Read more

Montana Labor Department Announces Unemployment Benefits Extension

The Montana Department of Labor and Industry announced Tuesday that it has continued paying out unemployment insurance benefits through the latest federal stimulus package passed at the end of last year. An agency spokesperson said the programs will be open until mid-March, with some final payments extending into April. Read more

01/11/21

The Montana health department confirmed 228 new COVID-19 cases Monday. Eight more coronavirus deaths have been announced since Friday. The state health department reports there are currently nearly 5,000 active cases statewide and 207 of those infected are currently hospitalized.

Monday the State Legislature’s COVID-19 Panel announced that Representative Fiona Nave, a Republican from Columbus, has tested positive for COVID-19. The panel’s chair says Nave has not yet been at the State Capitol in-person this session. She is the second lawmaker to announce a COVID-19 diagnosis in a week.

A total of nearly 87,000 Montanans have tested positive for the virus since the start of the pandemic.

COVID-19 Boosters Underway, Timing Of Next Phase Depends On Supply

As new COVID-19 cases begin to rise again in the state, Montana’s large counties say the COVID vaccine will not be available to those in Phase 1B for at least the next few weeks due to uncertain vaccine supply. Read more

Montana Universities To Offer Asymptomatic COVID-19 Tests For Residential Students

Spring semester begins this week for students in the Montana University System. Asymptomatic students living in campus residential halls will be able to be tested for COVID-19.

COVID-19 testing for students without symptoms will take place over the two weeks of the start of the spring semester for those campuses with substantial residence hall populations. Read more

01/08/21

The Montana health department confirmed 838 new COVID-19 cases Friday, as well as 11 new deaths due to the virus. Daily new case counts have been ticking up this week after a lull during the holidays.

Hospitals across the state are still vaccinating medical personnel with first and second doses.

Zachary Benoit in community relations at Billings Clinic says the demand is high.

"When we're going at a full clip, we can do about a hundred vaccines an hour."

Montana was allocated more than 13,000 total first doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine this week, according to CDC records."

While county health departments hope supply amounts rise and stabilize in coming weeks, several tribal nations were able to step into their next distribution phase and began vaccinating elders this week.

The Small Business Administration announced Friday that it will reopen the Paycheck Protection Program the week of January 11, prioritizing new borrowers.

The new round of PPP loans authorizes up to $284 billion through March 31st, 2021 and is meant to support job retention and other expenses for small businesses strained by the pandemic recession.

District Director for the Montana Small Business Association District Office Brent Donnelly says the program will simplify the loan forgiveness process. It will also open up eligibility for groups excluded from the first round, including certain non-profits, and local newspapers, TV and radio stations.

The program will open to first-time borrowers on January 11, and to second-time borrowers on January 13.

01/07/21

The Montana health department confirmed 713 new COVID-19 cases as well as 23 deaths due to the virus Thursday. 1,038 Montanans have died from the virus since the start of the pandemic.

This week the Chippewa Cree, Blackfeet, Crow and Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes began vaccinating elders after health care workers received the vaccine in recent weeks.

Counties say uncertainty in supply is making it difficult to anticipate when the vaccine will be more broadly available.

Health care workers with direct patient contact at the state’s largest hospitals are receiving second doses of the vaccine this week.

Yellowstone County Rescinds All Local COVID-19 Health Orders

As several Montana counties issue more restrictive health mandates to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Yellowstone County — with the highest number of active COVID-19 cases in the state — is rescinding all local health orders. Read more

What To Expect When You Get The COVID-19 Vaccine

Healthcare workers in Montana are getting vaccinated for COVID-19. Montana Public Radio’s Nick Mott has more on what the vaccination process will look like as the rollout ramps up. Read more

01/06/21

The latest round of federal COVID relief funding will provide Montana’s K-12 public schools with a little over $170 million.

The Montana Office of Public Instruction announced Tuesday that the amount coming from the latest COVID relief bill is over four times the amount school districts received in federal COVID funding last spring. OPI says it will receive more details in the coming days on when that funding could flow into the state and onto districts.

Each district’s funding will be calculated using a federal formula based on the number of low-income students living in their boundaries. Private schools will also be able to request a portion of that funding based on their number of low-income students.

01/04/21

Montana confirmed 288 new COVID-19 cases Monday, adding to the 288 new cases Sunday, 344 new cases on Saturday and 77 cases Friday. 14 people in the state have died from the virus in the new year.

Monday's testing numbers, at over 15,000 new tests, are higher than normal because counties are reporting their numbers from the long holiday weekend.

Monday, the Rocky Boy Health Center in Box Elder initiated Phase 2 of the Rocky Boy COVID-19 Vaccination Plan. Misty Denny, the health center’s public information officer, says the scheduling team began calling elders age 65 and older on December 31 to schedule appointments.

"We're trying to discourage any kind of elderly patients from just showing up. So they've been working diligently to try to contact the eligible recipients directly by phone."

Denny says the clinic vaccinated health care workers from its initial shipment of 200 doses of the Moderna vaccine and is using the remainder of its second shipment of 200 doses for elders, prioritizing those over 75 with medical conditions.

Most counties are still in their first rollout of the vaccine to healthcare workers who have direct contact or exposure with the virus. All tribal members are prioritized to receive the vaccine under the state’s vaccination plan. Native Americans in Montana have experienced disproportionately high rates of infection and mortality from the coronavirus.

12/18/20

Montana confirmed 522 new COVID-19 cases Friday and reported five more deaths from the virus. Montana’s death toll from the virus is 854, more than four times the number of highway fatalities this year.

The state didn’t report data Monday due to an upgrade to its disease reporting system. Since Tuesday, Montana’s active case count has risen about 4 percent to 9,265 cases. Meanwhile, the number of active hospitalizations has dropped nearly 20 percent during the same span.

Following an overwhelming amount of calls, the Missoula City-County Health Department on Friday urged the general public to stop reaching out to local hospitals and clinics for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Montana remains in the first phase of vaccine distribution, which means doses are reserved for frontline health care workers and long-term care facility residents.

The COVID-19 vaccine is not expected to be available to the broader public until next year.

Sen. Daines Encourages Montanans To Get COVID Vaccine

"The science tells us that the Pfizer vaccine is 95 percent effective. And it won't be mandatory. But I want to encourage Montanans, when it, when they are able to take the vaccine, to do it, because that's how we're going to end the pandemic," Daines says. Read more

First Wave Of Frontline Workers Receive Vaccine In Billings

The two large hospital systems in Billings are busy administering nearly 2,000 COVID-19 vaccines this week. The first jabs were met with joy and celebration. With vaccines in limited amounts, hospitals are prioritizing staff who come in direct contact with COVID-19 patients and that sometimes includes support staff. Hundreds of St. Vincent Healthcare frontline workers and a handful of Billings Clinic workers received the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 15. Read more

Montana To Receive Smaller COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation Than Expected

Gov. Steve Bullock Friday announced Montana will receive 20 percent fewer COVID-19 vaccine doses than expected through the end of the year. Montana’s vaccine allocation will drop from 60,000 to 48,000 doses this year, according to a news release from Bullock’s office. Other states also announced cuts to their shipments Friday. Read more

Gianforte: 'There Shouldn't Be Any Big Surprises' In My COVID Guidelines

When Montana Governor elect Greg Gianforte assumes office Jan. 4, he’ll inherit an ongoing response to the worst public health crisis to face the state in a century. The current U.S. Congressman says he’s holding off on releasing specifics about protecting public health while reopening businesses until he’s sworn in. Read more

Montana Universities Will Help Store, Distribute COVID-19 Vaccines

Montana’s two flagship universities will store, distribute and help administer the COVID-19 vaccines.The University of Montana announced Friday that it’s won state and federal approval to provide and distribute the vaccine to students, staff and community members when doses become available. UM joins Montana State University, which made a similar announcement earlier this week.

Neither university has the doses yet – that’s dependent upon federal and state supplies and priorities for vaccines. Currently the available COVID vaccine supply is reserved for healthcare personnel and adult residents of long-term care facilities.

The vaccines must be stored in special ultra-low temperature freezers. UM has three of those freezers, with a fourth to be delivered next month. MSU is wrapping up necessary backup electrical work on its freezers.

12/17/20

The Montana state health department confirmed 766 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, and reported 13 more deaths from the virus. Montana’s death toll from the virus is 849.

Though Flathead County remains a virus hot spot in Montana, its active case total has dropped to 1,086 cases, about half of the county’s early December total.

During a Flathead City-County Board of Health meeting Thursday, Health Officer Tamalee St. James Robinson said the county’s case total has declined enough to resume full contract tracing investigations.

"We did not experience a Thanksgiving bump like we thought we would. Hopefully it’s because people took our recommendations and didn’t have large dinners outside their core family members."

Robinson said it appears Flathead County is about a month past its last virus peak. Still, board member Dr. Pete Heyboer said the virus remains prevalent in the community, which means residents should continue to maintain safety measures like mask wearing and social distancing.

12/16/20

Montana confirmed 629 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, and reported 10 more deaths from the virus. Eight hundred and thirty-six Montanans have died from COVID-19.

Yellowstone County continues to be Montana’s largest virus hot spot, with nearly double the active cases of second-place Cascade County.

Wednesday, RiverStone Health in Yellowstone County announced it recently launched a system allowing people who are sick or who have been exposed to COVID-19 to voluntarily track and report their symptoms and recovery to RiverStone Health. RiverStone Health says the Sara Alert system allows case investigators to focus on high-risk and non-reporting individuals, leading to less burden on public health resources and earlier containment of the virus.

Flathead, Gallatin, Hill, Lincoln and Missoula counties have also adopted the system in recent months to alleviate contact tracing backlogs.

Gallatin County Judge Says Bozeman Bar Must Follow COVID-19 Health Orders

A Montana judge ordered a Bozeman bar to comply with health directives, including a 10 p.m. closing time, meant to limit the spread of the coronavirus in another case of businesses pushing back against the rules.

The judge issued the preliminary injunction on Wednesday in the lawsuit by the Gallatin City-County Board of Health’ against the Rocking R Bar. Read more

12/15/20

A second shipment of COVID-19 vaccinations is expected in Montana next week, with doses earmarked for health care workers in smaller communities.

At a vaccination event for frontline workers in Billings Tuesday, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said the state expects to receive the Moderna vaccine next week, pending Food and Drug Administration emergency use authorization.

"So in addition to the 18,000 Moderna commitment, we do anticipate additional Pfizer vaccines coming in next week as well, but we won't know what those counts are until Friday of every week."

Unlike the Pfizer vaccine that arrived at the state’s 10 large hospitals this week, Moderna’s does not require cold storage and comes in smaller batches, making it easier to distribute to rural care facilities.

The state vaccination plan calls for inoculating health care workers and residents of senior and long-term care facilities before others in the general public.

Bullock says the state expects to receive 60,000 doses by the end of the year.

Billings Hospital Signals Patient Discharges With 'Code Joy'

More than 3,000 people in Montana have been hospitalized with severe cases of COVID-19. One hospital in Billings has started celebrating each recovered patients return home with a new code: Joy. Read more

Helena's St. Peter’s Health Expects Most Employees To Get Vaccinated

Spokesperson Katie Gallagher said Tuesday roughly 70 percent of the 1,200 St. Peter’s Health employees who responded to a recent survey want or are interested in getting vaccinated. She said staff members wanted more information about the science behind the vaccine and known risks and benefits. Read more

Health Department Reports Eight More COVID-19 Deaths

The Montana health department confirmed 803 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday and reported eight more deaths from the virus. Montana’s COVID-19 death toll is 826.

Monday, the state coronavirus dashboard said local public health departments will take a few days to catch up with data entry following an upgrade to the state’s disease reporting system Sunday. The Roosevelt County COVID-19 Task Force said in a news release that county numbers are currently more accurate than state figures.

The state reported 338 active COVID-19 hospitalizations Tuesday, a drop of more than 30 percent since Dec. 1. Five of Montana’s 10 largest hospitals reported limited in-patient bed capacity between 70 and 90 percent Tuesday.

Most of those hospitals are receiving the first shipment of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine this week for frontline health care workers.

12/14/20

Montana didn’t report any new COVID-19 cases or deaths Monday, due to an upgrade to the statewide communicable disease reporting system conducted Sunday. The state coronavirus dashboard says cases will be added in coming days as local public health departments catch up with data entry.

Montana currently reports nearly 10,000 active COVID-19 cases following a sharp drop of several thousand cases over the weekend and a corresponding rise in recoveries.

Montana reported 818 deaths from the virus as of Sunday.

Worker Exodus Could Leave Lasting Impacts On Public Health Services

Endless workweeks and severe public backlash to COVID-19 restrictions are pushing Montana’s public health workers and officials to quit. That loss of experience could impact issues far beyond COVID, and be difficult to reverse. Read more

Bozeman Health Care Workers Among First Montanans To Get COVID-19 Vaccine

Six health care workers in Bozeman were among the first people in Montana to receive a COVID-19 vaccine Monday.

Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital’s Emergency Department Medical Director Eric Lowe said it’s incredibly exciting to begin using the shot that so many helped to develop and distribute.

"And to see them prioritized to the health care workers that have been day and night on the front lines over the last eleven months, it's fantastic."

Ten health care facilities in Montana’s seven largest communities this week are set to receive a total of 9,750 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine produced by drug company Pfizer.

St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings was the first in Montana to receive a shipment of the shots. St. Vincent Healthcare chief medical officer Dr. Michael Bush said in a statement the first doses will go to the hospital's frontline staff following federal and state-approved distribution guidelines for the vaccine.

It could be months before the general public has access to a vaccine.

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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.