GREAT FALLS — While the United States has seen a positive development in the daily number of deaths attributed to COVID-19, the virus has found a number of new states to call hotspots as of late.
California, Florida, and North Carolina are among the states who have seen the number of new positive tests each day increase since March.
Montana is also one of those states. In fact, there was a stretch between mid-April and late-May that the Treasure State didn’t see a single instance of 10+ new cases in a day, and even saw multiple days with no new cases. The turning point appears to be May 26.
From May 21 to May 25, no new cases were reported in Montana, making it very likely the only state in the country able to make such a claim. Since May 26, there has been at least one new case each day, including more than 200 cases since June 1st, the same day that the state entered Phase Two of reopening.
“I think there’s a number of potential factors that play into that,” said Cascade City-County Health Department health officer Trisha Gardner. “One is we’re doing more testing than we were previously, so, by default, we’re going to see those numbers increase. Just having more people tested, we’re going to find the cases more often. We are also making a recommendation for every person that’s a contact to a known case to get tested as well, so I think that’s helping increase our numbers as well. Another potential explanation is that people are just out and about more and have the potential to come into contact with the virus more frequently than they were in previous phases or the stay-at-home order.”
The testing process seems to have been vastly improved from where it was at the start of the pandemic, when many states were desperately asking the federal government for more tests.
Now that the tests seem to be at least somewhat more available, and Montana’s stay-at-home order has expired, it seems to have been the perfect storm for a spike in positive cases.
Gardner didn’t go so far as to say everyone should go back into stay-at-home mode, but there are a number of steps that everyone can be taking to provide for their health and safety and the health and safety of others.
That includes wearing masks anytime you go somewhere that you expect to encounter a large number of people, socially distancing yourself whenever possible, washing your hands often, and staying home if you feel sick.
Another statistic of note is the fact that the most effected age group in Montana during this pandemic is people between the ages of 20 and 29.
Here’s the breakdown from the Governor’s Coronavirus Task Force database:
- Ages 0-9: 23 cases
- Ages 10-19: 59 cases
- Ages 20-29: 133 cases
- Ages 30-39: 128 cases
- Ages 40-49: 92 cases
- Ages 50-59: 113 cases
- Ages 60-69: 116 cases
- Ages 70-79: 55 cases
- Ages 80-89: 18 cases
- Ages 90-99: 3 cases
While some people in the 20-29 age group may have an easier time than most overcoming the virus, and may even be asymptomatic, Gardner stressed that they should still be taking the virus seriously, for their own health and the health of others.
“I think that the thought that it’s not affecting them in the same way, they aren’t getting as sick or they maybe can’t pass it on,” she said. “That’s made them potentially a little more relaxed about taking precautions that they should be taking out in the community.”
There is some concern among health officials that tourism season in Montana, coupled with a slowly reopening state and tourist hotpots like Glacier National Park could cause the virus to spread even further and faster. Luckily, there are some precautions in place to protect against the virus riding in with tourists.
“One of the ways that they’re trying to address that at the state level is increased testing capabilities at those points of entry,” said Gardner, referring to the state’s Community Snapshot Testing initiative. “So, those counties that have tourism rates, they’ve amped up the availability of testing, they’ve trained the National Guard, and people to help with that as well as the contract tracing piece of it.”
It took about five weeks to transition from Phase One to Phase Two. But it’s three weeks now since Montana began Phase Two, and it seems as though Phase Three isn’t any closer than it was on June 1.