COVID in Montana: How MTN News reports the numbers

COVID in Montana: How MTN News reports the numbers
James Rafferty
Posted at 9:12 AM, Feb 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-02 11:24:58-05

BOZEMAN — MTN News has been keeping track of the COVID-19 numbers since March 2020. It’s been challenging, with 56 counties reporting case numbers, hospitalizations, deaths, recoveries, and now vaccination rates.

MTN’s Statewide Promotions Manager James Rafferty is in charge of keeping track of all those numbers. In 1995, Rafferty took a class at the University of Montana, “Numbers in News.” He noted, “I didn’t think I’d be using (it) for coverage of a pandemic, but it turned out that way.”

There are times when MTN’s numbers from county health departments don’t match up with what the state is providing on its official website, Rafferty explained. MTN decided early on to report the latest news from the counties rather than once a day, like the state.

In daily COVID updates posted on the KRTV website, the following information is included:

The numbers reported above reflect the latest data from the official Montana COVID website as well as updated information from county health departments. MTN News uses state data and county data to provide more accurate and timely information. As a result, numbers reported by MTN do not align with the DPHHS figures. Visit the state site for county-specific data.

“As the pandemic grew, as the state did its best efforts to send numbers out, they’re dealing with 56 different counties and the counties have that data first,” he said. “So the state was behind on the real-time, on-the-ground numbers, especially counties like Gallatin and Missoula. They are very religious about sending their numbers out around 10 to 11 in the morning every day. So as a group we felt it was important to give an accurate reflection of what the numbers were in the state, knowing these counties were reporting before the state could process them.”

It’s a seven-day-a-week, morning 'til night task, watching the numbers and it can get wildly confusing.

“We’re trying to bring in information as quickly as we can,” Rafferty said. “Especially evening newscasts. I try to do a quick survey around 4:45 p.m. just to see if there’s something we need for our 5:30 News. And then do the same in the evening before our 10 pm newscast.”

Rafferty’s wife is an executive producer for MTN News and the pair say they rely on one another. “There’s definitely some consultation,” Rafferty said. “We have our own little television station going here. It’s a team effort.”