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Bullock: Younger age groups contributing to surge in COVID-19

Spread of the virus can be prevented, he says


Last updated 7/30/2020 at 11:56am

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Caty Gondeiro gives an account of her bout with COVID-19 Wednesday during the governor's COVID-19 press briefing.

HELENA - Gov. Steve Bullock held a press conference Wednesday and discussed the recent numbers of cases of COVID-19, including a large increase in younger people being confirmed with the disease, and a young Montana woman talked about her experience of testing positive.

"In looking at the trending cases in Montana from the months of June and July to date, we have nine counties in Montana that we consider hot spots," Bullock said. "Those nine counties have 50 or more cases. They comprise about 80 percent of all cases recorded during June and July."

Those nine counties are Flathead, Lake, Missoula, Lewis and Clark, Cascade, Madison, Gallatin, Yellowstone and Big Horn, he said. 

He said in Yellowstone County 19 percent of the cases are connected to assisted living or long-term care facilities.

There are certainly patterns of similarities among the trend of cases the state has seen throughout June and July, he added.

Throughout this pandemic, he said, from March through July the proportion the state has tested the age groups from 0 to 9, 20 to 39, 40 to 59 or 6o and up have remained the same. 

"While we are testing more across all the age groups we're seeing more and more that the younger age groups are contributing to our increase in cases," Bullock said. "The rate per 100,000 that have tested positive in June and July has dramatically increased among the 20 to 39 age group, and in particular, actually the 20 to 29 age group."

He said in Gallatin County three-quarters of the cases have come from people younger than 40. People younger than 30 would make up 58 percent of cases.

In Missoula County, he said, two-thirds of the cases have come from people younger than 40, half of them younger than 30.

In Yellowstone County more than half of the cases are aged 39 and younger, he said. 

"Young adults are certainly more likely to socialize in larger group sizes and we know large gatherings continue to play a role in the increase in cases," Bullock added. "This is everything from the wedding festivities that we saw clusters in June, the Fourth of July festivities with big groups and big gatherings at bars, but we also know that we're social distancing and good hygiene is practiced, and masks are worn that transmission rate in large group sizes significantly decreases."

No one wants their wedding to be the next cluster, he said, that goes for other establishments like bars, restaurants or other areas where gatherings occur.

That is preventable, he said. 

"Cases are less likely to occur if the right preventative measures are taken at these establishments," he said. "Employees need to wear a mask, and make their guests wear them as well. Continue to sanitize and enforce social distancing between tables. Implement temperature checks or system screening on all staff, and don't allow anyone to come to work if they have symptoms."

He said, at this time the state is carefully reviewing patterns the state has seen in these nine hot spot counties.

"We'll be working with local public health officers in the coming days to determine if additional common sense measures can or should be taken to both deploy additional resources and/or steps to limit the spread," he said. "In this vast and diverse state certain communities may have to take some specific measures to tackle their unique situations that is what we'll be evaluating in the near future."

"At the same, in this vast and diverse state we're still in this together and each of our actions have a direct result on others no matter if we live in a county with five cases or a county with 500," he added.

Bullock said that Tuesday the state reached 50 deaths.

The tracking map for today raised that number to 55.

While the seniors remain the most vulnerable, he said, so do younger Montanans with underlying health conditions.

"We've recently been reminded that this virus can even take the life of someone in their 40s," he said. "And otherwise-healthy Montanans can experience extremely challenging short-term and life-altering outcomes when they face this virus. Montanans who recover from this disease could still need ongoing care for heart fatigue, lung and other issues."

Caty Gondeiro of Helena, 23, tested posted for COVID-19 Tuesday, July 7.

She said she doesn't know where she could've picked it up from.

"I'm healthy, I really didn't think I was high-risk for this," she said. "I did not worry about catching it. I was just not being as careful as I should've been and the symptoms are very real. This is nothing to be taken lightly."

COVID-19 is drastically affecting her life and her day-to-day, she said.

The symptoms, she said, started with chest pressure, fatigue, being tired and run down all the time, which progressed into fevers, body aches, loss of appetite, loss of smell and then, at its peak, all of it at once.

"Please don't take this lightly," Gondeiro said. "I think it is really important for people my age, the 20 to 29 age group, to understand that we are driving the spread of this because while we may recover from this, we all know people and have people in our lives that won't."

"We have a responsibility to protect the people around us and it's our job to be mindful and considerate of our engagements," she added. "When I tested positive I wasn't worried about the social events I was going to be missing. All I was worried about was the people in my life that would be affected by this because I'm young, I'm healthy and I'm active, and I still need a nap every day now. It has slowed me down substantially."

She said she went for a walk Tuesday and could feel it in her lungs Wednesday.

Bullock said this virus has an impact on everyone.

It has now been about two weeks, he said, since the state put the mask requirement indoor spaces open to the public, and organized outdoor gatherings with counties with four or more current cases.

"Regardless of the mask requirement, all along the way we'll continue to educate Montanans and raise awareness of mask wearing is an effective way to curb the spread of the virus," he said. "... One of the most important things we can do to keep moving forward is certainly tackling this virus is by continuing to make mask-wearing a habit. It is as simple as this: The more Montanans are educated on the importance of masks and follow the requirements, the more likely that we are to get a hand on this virus."

  He said Quest Diagnostics should be done with their backlog of 7,000 pending tests by the end of this week.

Since the state finalized its contract with a North Carolina lineup reference lab MAKO last week they have performed around 4,000 tests for Montanans, he said.

He said Montana State University is going to be running tests soon.

The state lab continues to perform tests with a quick turnaround, he said, adding that it is currently prioritizing people with symptoms, close contacts and outbreak investigations as well as front-line workers and residents of congregate care facilities.

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Gov. Steve Bullock speaks during a COVID-19 press briefing Wednesday in the governor's office.

"Over the previous four weeks, we completed around 70,000 tests, so know that our goal of 60,000 tests a month is certainly attainable,"  Bullock said. "We'll continue to strive for meeting this goal and ensure those who need a test are getting one with results in a timely manner, but mostly our top priority is to make sure we are promoting and encouraging the testing that will help us best control the outbreaks and protect our most vulnerable citizens."

He said the Coronavirus Relief Fund for schools applications are now live. Public and accredited private schools can now apply on the Department of Commerce website on its Montana Coronavirus Relief Fund page.

The first application deadline is this Friday with payments made Friday, Aug. 7, he said.

The second deadline, he said, is Friday, Aug. 14 with final payments made Friday, Aug. 21. 


Montana Department of Commerce website: https://commerce.mt.gov .


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