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County drops below four active cases of COVID-19


Last updated 8/10/2020 at 12:05pm

According to a report by Hill County Health Officer Jessica Sheehy read by Hill County Commissioner Mike Wendland at the weekly COVID-19 update Aug. 8, Hill County has dropped below four active cases,

However, despite this the report said the department is still strongly encouraging people to be vigilant.

“Although Hill County has dropped below the four active cases as required by the mask directive, we are still recommending those be worn indoors and outdoors where social distancing cannot be observed,” Wendland said, reading the report.

Sheehy, who normally delivers her report herself at the meetings, could not attend because of the time of the meeting, but Wendland said, she would be back for subsequent updates.

The report said the numbers change daily, so people should stay up to date via the department’s Facebook page or webpage.

It said the number of total cases in Hill County is 42 with three active and two COVID-19 related deaths.

As of Friday, 910 tests have been performed in Hill County with two pending, the report said.

Sheehy’s report also said there has been some confusion about recent differences in numbers reported for the county by the health department and the state, and that this is caused by a lag in information that is being addressed on the state level and will hopefully be solved in the near future.

The report recommended that people use the nightly updates by the health department, as they are the most accurate source of information.

Sheehy’s report also said the state is continuing to work on its testing capabilities and are in the process of making agreements with two or three new labs including one at Montana State University.

Because the state has recently worked through its backlog of asymptomatic tests, the report said, surveillance testing around the state will likely resume in the coming weeks.

The report also said it was likely that counties with large numbers of cases and/or an immediate need would get priority for such events and it’s unlikely that Hill County will see any testing events in the near future unless there is an outbreak.

Sheehy’s report said the department has spent most of the last week working with schools regarding re-opening for the coming fall and that approvals may take some time due to the complexity of the plans.

“None of these are short plans or easy decisions, so we encourage patience,” the report said.

Hill County Health Director Kim Larson said the department is still getting a lot of phone calls and emails regarding event planning from people in the county.

“In general, our health department is not recommending gatherings of more than 50 people,” Larson said, “But if people continue on with the planning of their events we will work with them to hopefully social distance and follow the directives as laid out by the governor.”

Larson also said the department has had some trouble with people not following quarantine orders.

“We’ve had a couple issues,” she said.

At a press conference last week, Gov. Steve Bullock said he’d heard local health officials say that they were having issues with people not taking quarantine orders seriously, but Larson said the issues they’ve had seem to be born more of misunderstanding.

She said when a close contact of someone with COVID-19 is found and their test comes back negative they often assume they’re good to go back to life as usual, but they are actually still required to quarantine for 14 days.

Larson said this is required by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.

She said this is due to the incubation period of the virus, and the fact that if people get a negative result they could still be in the early stages of the virus and may well become symptomatic later.

Larson said for the most part education has been helping to alleviate this confusion.

“We’re working through it day by day,” she said.

Larson also said there have only been two cases of salmonella in Hill County and no related hospitalizations caused by the recent nationwide outbreak reported by the CDC and Food and Drug Administration last week.

Hill County Attorney Karen Alley said she’s been advising the health department on the legal ramifications of events and how the department can ensure people are following quarantine orders.

She said there have been businesses that have gotten to the second step of the health department’s three-step process of enforcing Bullock’s recent mask directive, but they haven’t had to take any legal action and education is still working in the majority of cases.

She said she’s also been working with law enforcement and addressing their questions about evictions, as many eviction moratoriums expired at the end of July.

Wendland said the next COVID-19 update would be Friday at 1 p.m.


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