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Testing discussed in weekly Hill County COVID-19 update

Mass test event brings only one positive result, one Hill County test still pending Friday, new cases in Blaine, Chouteau counties


Last updated 8/4/2020 at 8:09am

Hill County Health Officer Jessica Sheehy provided details Friday during a Hill County Health Board meeting on testing in Hill County, recent COVID-19 hospitalizations and the state’s recent surge of virus-related deaths.

Sheehy said Hill County has now has 40 total cases with 21 active and 18 recovered.

New numbers have come over the weekend in the region, with Chouteau and Blaine counties each reporting a new confirmed case over the weekend

She also said 849 tests have been conducted in the county with 17 pending. This includes symptomatic testing, rapid tests and contact tracing tests, but excludes asymptomatic tests like those performed by Bullhook Community Health Center early last month.

Bullhook CEO Kyndra Hall said all but one of the tests from that event have come back and of them only one was positive. She said if someone was tested, they would only be contacted if they were positive and if they haven’t been contacted that they are negative.

Sheehy said the health department is still not doing asymptomatic testing, which the state recently recommended they discontinue due to the statewide backlog of surveillance testing results.

She said she may have an update on that front at next week’s COVID-19 update.

She also said there is no shortage of symptomatic testing in the county, nor are there any backlog related issues.

Sheehy said in the last week there have been three hospitalizations for COVID-19, but two are now at home recovering.

She said she thinks Northern Montana Health Care handled the situation well, but there is some concern for the future if more hospitalizations happen.

“They were cases, I believe, that were positive already and had just worsened symptom-wise,” she said, “… The hospital seems ready to go, although anxiously awaiting the hospitalizations as we start to see those come in and what that means for the community.”

Sheehy said the recent rise in the COVID-19 death rate in Montana is a matter of concern for the Hill County Health Department and that they will continue to monitor the situation closely.

“Last week was 46 and now we’re up to 60, so it’s certainly something that we’re going to be keeping an eye on in the next couple of weeks,” she said.

The number listed on this morning’s update of the state’s COVID-19 tracking number had risen by four since Friday, with 64 deaths confirmed.

In the last week, Sheehy said, the health department has mostly been working with organizations on events and re-openings and that they are happy to continue doing so.

“We’ve been working with schools and businesses, youth groups and sports teams, just providing guidance and information and input when requested and when necessary,” she said.

Hill County Public Health Director Kim Larson said the department is still receiving a high volume of calls and emails with questions, many of which are related to Gov. Bullock’s recent directive requiring people in counties with four or more active COVID-19 cases to wear masks in certain indoor and outdoor environments.

She said the department has received two or three complaints about businesses not following the directive, but she said the educational calls, which is the first step in the health departments three-step enforcement strategy, seem to have been taken well and no further action has been necessary.

Larson said the department has also been working with Havre Public Schools, North Star Schools and other rural schools on creating re-opening plans and she recently received St. Jude’s full re-opening plan.

“We’re working closely with all of them,” she said, “And they’ve all done a really great job with putting together plans, so by the time we get them they’re pretty well put together, and we can kinda just help them and answer some of the questions they have.”

Larson said plans are being made for busing students as well, but she hasn’t seen any of them just yet.

She also said the department has been working with Boys and Girls Club as well as Montana State University-Northern.

She said the state is working with Montana State University in Bozeman to set up testing for students and faculty with a capacity of 500 tests per day, but she doesn’t know how those plans will affect Northern yet.

Hill County Health Board Member and MSU-Northern Little River Institute Director Erica McKeon-Hanson thanked Larson and the department for their efforts.

“The health department has been so helpful as we’ve been navigating through out plan for MSU-Northern,” she said.

The next health board COVID-19, available on GoToMeeting, will be held Friday at noon.


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