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Health Board talks about COVID-19 surge in the state


Last updated 7/16/2020 at 12:01pm

The Hill County Health Board discussed the recent surge of cases in Montana of COVID-19 in the state of Montana, with the state now above the 2,000-mark in cases, during its quarterly meeting Wednesday.

Hill County has seen a surge starting July 4, with the county Health Department saying this morning the total for the county is 22 cases, 19 active and three recoveries. The first case was confirmed in March with no more confirmed till this month.

Hill County Health Officer Jessica Sheehy said there were 145 new cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday morning.

“(With) contact tracing, (Lead Public Health Nurse Bridget Kallenberger) is pretty up to date, but certainly we’re still following those active cases,”  Sheehy said.

She said 593 people have been tested in Hill County as of Wednesday morning with five pending results and that excludes the numbers from the Bullhook Community Health Clinic’s drive-through testing event from last week.

Hill County Health Director Kim Larson said this morning that the results from those tests were not available at that time.

Sheehy added during Wednesday’s meeting that Rocky Boy’s Health Center did its second drive-through and walk-through testing last week and did about 1,400 tests.

“So those individuals, they go through a surveillance type testing situation where you are asymptomatic or low-priority when they go to the state,” she said. 

The results for those could take anywhere from 10 to 12 days, she said.

Sheehy said she received an email Tuesday evening that the state is not recommending any surveillance testing because it has to get caught up.

As far as restrictions go, she said, there might be a time and place where Hill County does some events with restrictions.

“I just want it to be from a logical, my recommendations have to be from a logical, medical capacity perspective and so when I look do we need to do masking, do we need to do more restrictions, it has to be, do we have too many cases, we can’t keep up with them,” she said. 

Hill County Attorney Karen Alley said in means of placing restrictions the baseline used is the governor’s directive.

The meeting was held before Gov. Bullock announced Wednesday afternoon that he issued a directive that, starting today, he is mandating wearing masks in public settings and gatherings of greater than 50 people where social distancing is not possible in any county with four or more active cases, and urged people wear masks in every county.

Allen said during the Health Board meeting that the restrictions need to be based on the number of cases or it needs to match the actual reality of what’s going on in the county related to the pandemic.

 “So the baseline for anything going on for the county is the governor’s directive,” she added.

She said she thinks any event larger than 50 people should be canceled.

At this point, Sheehy said, the cases in Hill County aren’t through community spread.

“Not that we can’t, not that it won’t get there, but right now we have a good hold on it,” Sheehy said. “... I think we’ll need more restrictions. I want to be logical and be able to explain it to people, and hopefully get people on board with that because we might look at this for the next year, at least several months.”

Even with Bullock’s directive of not holding any events larger than 50 people and any larger event needing to work with county officials, she said, just because those events work with them doesn’t mean they don’t make her nervous, concerned about increased chance of COVID.

Most events have been working well with them, she said.

Larson said she has been working a lot with calls about events and concerned citizens about events.

“It is kind of a grey area of whether or not it can go forward or not,” she said. “I would basically say, ‘If you are planning an event with over 50 people we don’t recommend it.”

Larson said the whole point is prevention.

As of July 20, Walmart and Sam’s Club nationwide will require people to wear masks, she said.

She added that with contact tracing it is a lot more work — one case becomes hundreds of phone calls.

“If we do not contact you directly you are not a contact,” she said. 

She said, as for regular immunization, the health department started its mobile immunization clinic in June and with the increase of COVID-19 cases in July immunizations have been put on hold because they don’t have the staff to do it.

They are looking to get the immunizations back on track in time for returning back to school and so on, she said.

The annual Little Shots Carnival is also canceled, she added.

“I’m just working a lot on COVID-19 stuff,” Larson said.

 Hill County Women, Infants and Children Coordinator Nicole Hungerford said WIC is still doing services remotely.

“We are doing everything over the phone. That will go till at least September,” she said. “The National WIC Association is actually pushing for the USDA to approve those waivers through Sept. of 2021, so there will be more coming on that.” 

She said WIC is providing curbside services for people who need to pick up anything.

Hill County Sanitarian Will Lorett said they are continuing with inspections and making sure people are following the re-opening guidelines.

The next quarterly Health Board meeting will be Oct. 1.

The next COVID-19 update of the Hill County Board of Health will be held Friday, July 24,  at noon via GoToMeeting at https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/805108917 or people can join by phone 866-899-4679 Access Code: 805-108-917.


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