GREAT FALLS — Officials have provided an update on COVID-19 (coronvirus) cases in Toole County, one of the hardest-hit areas of Montana on a per-capita bases.
The estimated population of Toole County is about 4,900; for Shelby - the county seat - the number is about 3,200.
As of Thursday morning, the Toole County Health Department reports:
- Current number of hospitalized cases: 1
- Total number of deaths: 3
- Number of recovered cases: 4
- Total number of tests administered: 188
- Total number of positive cases: 18
The Marias Medical Center in Shelby said on March 26 that one of the residents of the Marias Heritage Center tested positive for COVID-19. Marias Heritage Center is a 38 apartment, state-licensed facility in Shelby. The next day, they said that some of the positive COVID-19 tests are from Marias Heritage Center employees. They also said: "This situation also exposed others to COVID-19 and, as such, we expect there could be other positives."
Marias Medical Center says it has been taking every precaution possible when it comes to preparing the Toole County community for COVID -19 (coronavirus) to hit. Marias Medical Center CEO William Kiefer says as a regional hospital, they have been tracking the virus since early January to prepare for what they might see, and says that preparation has paid off for them so far. He said, “This has definitely been a challenge. Watching it trend, watching what was happening in China to see if it was going to spread, and fortunately we started to act quickly because we know that we have limited resources. We started looking for PPE (personal protective equipment) to bring into the organization, which we were able to find and fortunately that has sustained us.”
Although they have had enough equipment, there were still a large number of staff that had been potentially exposed, causing them to send employees to self-quarantine at home, which presented its own challenges. Kiefer said, “The remainder of the staff have had to come together, band together and work to pick up shifts so we can continue to provide care for our patients at the hospital (and) our residents at our assisted living facility as well.”
Being a relatively small facility, Marias has been working with medical facilities in Kalispell, Cut Bank, and Conrad to stay connected. Kiefer says they have been working to share best practices and sharing what each organization has done in terms of preparation, and sharing information and resources. They collectively decided to set up a formal incident command based at Kalispell Regional Medical Center. “They are creating a labor pool, creating joint press releases and looking at all of the different needs that are created for the healthcare entities and organizations and looking to meet those needs,” Kiefer says, adding that the assistance has been critical to them during this time.
He did say they see some good news in the future in that a majority of their workforce will be back throughout the week which will help with staffing and being able to keep everyone safe and healthy: “When it impacts a community like it’s impacted ours, it becomes that much more real that this is not just happening in New York City, this is happening right here in Shelby Montana and we have to do everything in our individual and collective powers to help get it out of our community.”
Marias Medical Center and its employees began using the hashtag #keeponkeepingon and using the term in their every day tasks, as a way to keep up morale, and let their staff know they are all together in this fight.
As of Thursday at 10 a.m. (April 9), there have been a total of 354 confirmed cases of COVID-19 (coronavirus) in Montana, an increase of 19 since Wednesday. There have been six deaths to date (source/map). There have been three deaths in Toole County, and one each in Lincoln County, Madison County, and Missoula County.
There have now been 36 hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients in Montana, and 157 recovered patients. The DPHHS public health lab in Helena has completed 7,860 tests for COVID-19, including 462 tests since yesterday's update.
CLOSURES & RESTRICTIONS: Governor Steve Bullock said on Tuesday that he is ordering the extension of the "stay at home" order designed to curb the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) in Montana. The original order was issued on March 26 and runs through Friday, April 10. The extension will now last through Friday, April 24.
Bullock also said on Tuesday that public K-12 schools across the state will remain closed through April 24. Other directives previously issued by the governor have also been extended through April 24, including the closure of bars, casinos, and other non-essential businesses; the closure of dine-in service for restaurants; the temporary suspension of evictions and foreclosures; and prohibiting for now shutting off of utilities for nonpayment. RELATED: What businesses are considered "essential?
Bullock also recommended that Montanans wear cloth face masks when they're out in public, such as in grocery stores and pharmacies. He also extended the order requiring incoming travelers to Montana to enter into a 14-day self-quarantine.
US/WORLD: According to Johns Hopkins University, the worldwide numbers as of Thursday morning are: 1,503,900 confirmed COVID-19 cases; 89,931 deaths; and 340,112 patients have recovered. The U.S. numbers are: 432,579 confirmed cases; 14,830 deaths; and 24,213 patients have recovered.