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Health officer: Yellowstone County near threshold for new COVID restrictions

felton, john 10 5.JPG
Posted at 5:04 PM, Oct 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-09 19:43:57-04

Yellowstone County Health Officer John Felton could announce new COVID restrictions for businesses and group gatherings next week if the county records 126 new cases over the next two days.

If that happens, Yellowstone County will hit 565 cases over the week, which equals a positivity rate of 50 new COVID-19 cases over the week.

Felton indicated in a news conference earlier Monday that a rate that high would warrant increasing capacity restrictions on bars, restaurants, casinos and churches, along with requiring bars to close at 10 p.m. He initially stated he would allow only a 25 percent capacity for these groups but walked that back to 50 percent during a virtual meeting hosted by the Billings Chamber of Commerce.

“I want our local businesses to stay open and thrive. I want our churches to stay open. I want our schools to stay open. But right now, the risk of infection is high and more people are becoming infected and becoming hospitalized,” Felton said in a news release. “Many Yellowstone County residents have been keeping their distance, wearing masks when out in public, at school and at work and avoiding large crowds. But many others have ignored these precautions that our best U.S. scientists have found effective in slowing the spread of this virus.”

The restrictions would be announced at a news conference Monday, if they are required.

Here's the full release from RiverStone Health:

Billings, MT – On October 5, John Felton, Yellowstone County Health Officer and President and CEO of RiverStone Health, announced public health steps that would be taken if the average of daily COVID-19 infections per 100,000 people exceeded certain thresholds.

In announcing a potential Yellowstone County Health Officer Order, a threshold of an average of 40 new daily COVID-19 infections per 100,000 county residents by October 31 was set. That date was set to allow time for community members to improve their virus prevention behavior and for those actions to have an impact on reducing new cases.

On October 5, Felton also announced that an average of 50 cases per 100,000 population per day would result in immediate imposition of restrictions to slow the virus spread.

Yellowstone County’s population is 161,300 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. To stay under 40 new cases per 100,000 population per day, Yellowstone County must have no more than 452 new cases for the entire week. To stay below 50 cases per 100,000 population per day, Yellowstone County must have no more than 565 cases for the week.

To keep the community informed on the number of new COVID-19 cases for the week, RiverStone Health has begun posting the number of new cases for the week and updating the information daily at RiverStoneHealth.org.

As of Thursday, October 8, there have been 439 new COVID-19 cases for the week. Note that positive test results are only counted once and new case numbers reported on the state of Montana daily tracking map are those for the previous day.

If the threshold of new COVID-19 cases exceeds 565 when the Saturday cases are reported on Sunday, October 11, Felton would issue a new Health Officer Order early the week of October 12.

“I want our local businesses to stay open and thrive. I want our churches to stay open. I want our schools to stay open. But right now, the risk of infection is high and more people are becoming infected and becoming hospitalized,” Felton said. “Many Yellowstone County residents have been keeping their distance, wearing masks when out in public, at school and at work and avoiding large crowds. But many others have ignored these precautions that our best U.S. scientists have found effective in slowing the spread of this virus.”

If the new positive case count for the week ending Saturday, October 10 (case numbers reported on Sunday, October 11) exceeds 565 cases, Felton will announce mitigation measures at a press conference on Monday, October 12, 2020.