GREAT FALLS — The Cascade County Board of Health has delayed implementing more restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19.
No date has been set for when the board will meet next. The decision comes as coronavirus cases continue to rise across the county and state, and businesses brace for stricter public health measures that could curb the spread of the virus — while hurting their bottom lines.
At a meeting on Tuesday, board members heard more than two hours of public comment about the possibility of reimposing restrictions. Among the ideas floated to stop the spread of the virus were reducing business capacity from 75% to 50% and limiting indoor gatherings further. Yellowstone County and Flathead County have considered similar restrictions in recent weeks, with mixed results.
Health officials said a significant amount of new infections are coming from large and small gatherings, as well as people eating in public. The Cascade City-County Health Department reports that indoor dining facilities are one of the highest-risk places for contracting COVID-19. But many restaurant and bar owners in Cascade County say another round of restrictions would be a tremendous financial burden.
For Board of Health members, it's a tough balancing act. Dr. Ray Geyer, an infectious disease doctor and board member, said even the 250 limit on gatherings is "unsafe." But for business owners like Greg Schoby, the general manager of Black Eagle Community Center, the idea of reimposing a 250 limit is too much.
“It’s still a struggle to catch up from when we did have to close down,” Schoby said.
CCHD has made more than 200 calls to businesses regarding noncompliance with public health orders. Three businesses in Cascade County have been issued orders of correction, but none have been shut down. Other Montana counties have been more punitive. This month, two bars in Missoula were temporarily shut down for failing to enforce public health rules.
Great Falls Clinic posted the following message on Facebook on Wednesday afternoon: "Today we are at 100% capacity. Although we do not have an ICU, we have four special care beds, all of which are full with COVID-19 patients. Benefis has reached 113% capacity. Benefis ICU is also full with 21 patients, 19 of those patients have COVID-19."
As of Wednesday afternoon, there have been 14 deaths due to COVID in Cascade County; there are currently 750 active cases and 782 recovered cases in Cascade County.
There were 624 new cases and 23 new deaths added to the total on the Montana COVID-19 tracking site on Wednesday morning. The data below is from the official Montana website on October 21:
- TOTAL CASES & RECOVERIES: There have been 24,712 cumulative cases statewide, with 15,085 people recovered.
- HOSPITALIZATIONS: There are 345 current hospitalizations, and a cumulative total of 1,068 hospitalizations.
- DEATHS: The cumulative number of deaths in Montana is at 275.
- ACTIVE CASES: The state reports there are currently 9,352 active COVID-19 cases in Montana.
- TESTING: There were 2,973 completed tests, for a new cumulative state-wide total of 447,994.
Numbers reported by the state each day occasionally differ from those reported by county public health departments due to periodic lag times in reporting data to the state. Based on additional data from county health departments, MTN News is reporting the following:
- Deaths: 289 (+14 from state)
- Active: 8,735 (-617 from state)
- Recoveries: 16,214 (+1129 from state)
- Total Cases: 25,238 (+526 from state)
We encourage people to check the official website and/or Facebook page of their respective county health department for any information that is not yet included in the state's daily updates.
It's important to note that not every person who tests positive actually becomes ill or exhibits symptoms. Many do not; of those who do become sick, some experience mild symptoms and do not require hospitalization. Others, however, do require hospitalization, as noted in the daily update on the number of people hospitalized. However, every person who does test positive for COVID-19 has the potential to spread the virus to other people, including family members and friends, which is why public health officials continue to encourage everyone to wear a mask and maintain at least the recommended six feet of "social distance" when in public.
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- What constitutes a recovery? Click here for details
- Why are cases increasing? Click here for details