Great Falls Tribune: Now no time to relax regulations, health official says, as Montana adds 23 COVID-19 deaths

by Traci Rosenbaum

Cascade County posted 10 new deaths from COVID-19 as of Thursday afternoon, bringing the county death toll to 115 and the state’s to 1,038.

The Cascade City-County Health Department (CCHD) continues to receive doses of vaccine and is working on completing Phase 1A of Gov. Greg Gianforte’s new vaccination plan.

Gianforte announced Tuesday changes to the state COVID-19 guidelines and eventual plans to remove the statewide mask mandate.

Locally, however, the Cascade County Board of Health voted Wednesday to retain the mask mandate even if Gianforte loosens restrictions.

Wednesday’s updated vaccination plan changed the Phase 1B recipients, which are now made up of people aged 70 years and older, American Indians and other people of color who may be at elevated risk for COVID-19 complications and people between 16 and 69 years old with certain high-risk medical conditions.

Phase 1C includes front-line essential workers, people age 60 or older, individuals in congregate care and correctional facilities and people with medical conditions not listed in the Phase 1B plan.

Healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities are already receiving vaccinations as part of Phase 1A, which CCHD Public Health Officer Trisha Gardner said should wrap up in the coming weeks.

CCHD continues to post quarantine guidelines and COVID-19 updates on its Facebook page, as well as advocating that community members get their flu shots.

Sen. Jon Tester’s office issued a release Thursday announcing that Montana will receive more than $71 million for coronavirus testing and vaccine distribution.

The release said Tester secured more than $61 million for COVID-19 testing and almost $10 million for vaccine distribution through the year-end bipartisan COVID-19 relief and stimulus package.

“Every step we take towards increased testing and effective vaccine distribution is another step towards combating the spread of COVID-19 and getting our economy back on track,” Tester said. “With the news this week that Montana has passed the grim milestone of more than 1,000 COVID-19 deaths, these critical resources are needed more now than ever to help get this virus under control once and for all, and get folks back to work.”

The funding, expected to arrive before Jan. 19, also supports contract tracing, surveillance, containment and mitigation efforts to monitor and suppress COVID-19.

At Wednesday’s Board of Health meeting, board member and Great Falls Clinic infectious disease specialist Dr. Ray Geyer said now is not the time to relax any regulations to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Tim Street a provider at Great Falls Clinic receives the first Covid-19 vaccine in Great Falls on Wednesday afternoon, December 16, 2020. The Great Falls Clinic received 500 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and planned to vaccinate 500 employees by the end of the week.
“Overstating the obvious, the virus doesn’t know that the year changed. The virus doesn’t know that the governor changed,” he said. “It only knows…how to get in our bodies and make us sick and try to kill us. That’s all it knows.”

The state posted 713 new COVID-19 cases as of Thursday afternoon, bringing Montana’s total to 84,750 confirmed reports.

Of those cases, 78,796 are recovered and 4,916 remain active. There are 208 people who are now hospitalized out of 3,782 total hospitalizations, according to the state website

Montana added 23 deaths overnight, bringing the total to 1,038 fatalities related to the respiratory illness.

Cascade County reported 23 new cases. Out of 6,835 total cases, Cascade County has 568 active cases.

The state has administered 823,279 tests for the coronavirus, which is 6,137 more than Tuesday.

The first case of COVID-19 in Montana was reported on March 11.

Here are the county-by-county updates as of Thursday afternoon:

Major Counties
• Missoula: 88 New; 358 Active; 6,675 Total
• Lewis and Clark: 65 New; 560 Active; 5,169 Total
• Yellowstone: 120 New; 1,171 Active; 14,217 Total
• Gallatin: 96 New; 510 Active; 9,879 Total
• Flathead: 54 New; 433 Active; 9,123 Total
• Big Horn: 52 New; 128 Active; 2,116 Total

Northcentral Montana
• Hill County: 22 New; 96 Active; 1,728 Total
• Blaine County: 3 New; 10 Active; 616 Total
• Glacier County: 2 New; 35 Active; 1,351 Total
• Pondera County: 0 New; 14 Avtive; 397 Total
• Teton County: 0 New; 12 Active; 319
• Chouteau County: 8 New; 24 Active; 392 Total
• Fergus County: 9 New; 49 Avtive; 882 Total