BILLINGS Yellowstone County Health Officer John Felton urged everyone Thursday to do their part to slow the spread of Covid-19, which has hit Yellowstone County hard in recent weeks with 14 deaths and surging numbers of positive cases.
At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Felton talked about the growing number of coronavirus cases and the directive by Gov. Steve Bullock to make masks mandatory when inside public places.
Felton said there are currently 440 active cases in Yellowstone County - nearly a third of all the cases in the entire state of Montana.
"This month alone, Yellowstone County has reported 458 cases, more cases than the county had in the previous four months combined," he said. "Among the 629 cases reported in Yellowstone County since the pandemic began, on March 13, 440 of those are active right now. Nearly one-third of all of the 1,226 active cases in Montana are in Yellowstone County. Today, there are 24 people confirmed to have Covid-19 hospitalized in Yellowstone County. This constitutes 55% of all of the people hospitalized in the state of Montana with the disease."
"Yellowstone County is the epicenter of the pandemic in Montana," he said.
(Watch the full press conference in the video above.)
One of the largest clusters has been in senior nursing homes where 112 residents and staff have tested positive - 91 in the Canyon Creek Memory Center.
“Let me assure you, Covid-19 is a big deal. The families of 14 dead Yellowstone County residents certainly believe it’s a big deal. Our 440 friends and neighbors who are isolated at home and the several thousand close contacts who are in isolation and spending their summer behind closed doors believe this is a big deal,” Felton said.
Felton said that universal masking has been shown to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and urged everyone to wear a mask to keep neighbors safe and help businesses keep open.
Felton also said it has been difficult for Riverstone Health to do contact tracing, not only because of the stress the spike in cases is putting on the public health system, but also because many people are not returning calls or cooperating with orders to quarantine.
Another obstacle is the nationwide backlog in testing results. Felton said that will impact Riverstone’s ability to conduct testing at the Shrine Auditorium as planned. Asymptomatic testing will continue for the remainder of this week, but Felton doesn’t know how long it might take to get results back. Testing will continue for those who are showing symptoms.
Felton predicted that the rest of July will continue to see many cases in Yellowstone County. When asked if it is feasible for schools to open with cases continuing to rise, he said that everything involves a risk and that in just two weeks the regular impact of masking on a regular basis would be seen if people follow the directive and wear them.
“Isn’t the inconvenience of wearing a mask and maintaining appropriate social distance worth saving a life, saving a job or saving a business,” Felton said as he again urged everyone in the community to do their part.