Larson: COVID-19 situation in Hill County is dire

Restrictions will hit if case rate doesn't go down


Last updated 10/19/2020 at 1:27pm

Hill County Public Health Director and Health Officer Kim Larson Friday during a county Board of Health meeting described the COVID-19 situation in the county as dire.

She said that Friday, Oct. 9, the county had 305 total cases, with 117 active, one hospitalization, and five deaths, but the last week has seen all those numbers shoot up drastically.

"As of last (Thursday) night, at 5 p.m. we've added 169 cases, with 205 active, eight hospitalizations and 12 deaths," Larson said. "It's been a very busy week."

The report Sunday night listed Hill County with 241 active cases, seven active hospitalizations and another death brought the county total to 13.

Larson said Friday that the department is keeping track of far more than 400 people in quarantine at the moment.

"I really want to stress that this is a public health emergency," Larson said. " ... We're in a pretty dire situation in Hill County and I want to point out that 60 percent of our overall cases have come in the last two weeks."

She also compared Hill County to Yellowstone, which recently implemented new measures to combat the pandemic and slow the spread of the virus.

"As most of you have probably heard, Yellowstone County has implemented new restrictions once their number of cases got over 60 per day per 100,000 (residents)," she said, "Just to bring into perspective the situation in Hill County, for the week of Oct. 5 through the 11th, we were at 115 per day per 100,000 and this does not seem to be slowing down."

Larson said she has no illusions that the virus will be eliminated from Hill County, but the spread must be slowed down so the hospital, local businesses, schools and her organization can keep up, something that is quickly becoming very difficult.

She said if the numbers are not controlled and the spread of COVID-19 does not slow down, more restrictions through a health officer order may be necessary as things continue to get out of hand.

"We can't keep up at this pace," she said, " ... Whether or not we implement more restrictions is really up to our community members."

Potential restrictions listed

In a document given to the Havre Daily News by the health department, control measures will be put in place if the COVID-19 cases reach a certain level in the community.

Larson said she's sent this document to members of the Hill County Health Board with the recommendation from the department that they adopt it.

The document says the data to determine if this plan will be implemented will not be measured until the week of Oct. 26 to allow Hill County the opportunity to change the trajectory of the cases through routine public health measures including social distancing, wearing a mask, not attending or hosting large events, staying home when ill and following isolation/quarantine orders.

The county will have to cut its 115-cases-per-day-per-100,000 case rate by more than half to avoid restrictions.

The plan says the restrictions will be put in place if the number of new cases is at or above an average of 50 per day per 100,000 - which calculates to about 58 cases per week for Hill County- and will go into effect at 5 p.m. the following Wednesday afternoon.

The restrictions include social gatherings being limited to no more than 25 people, regardless of the ability to socially distance, as well as restaurants, bars, distilleries, breweries and casinos being limited to 50 percent capacity.

The plan says these restrictions will be in place for one month, after which the new cases average will be assessed, and the continuation of restrictions will be determined based on whether the average is below 50 per day per 100,000.

The need for further restrictions may be necessary if we do not see a decrease in cases, the document says.

It says every night by 5 p.m. the department will post their daily numbers on their Facebook page and website so the public is aware of the current numbers.

The document says they will also issue the draft health officer order Monday, Oct. 26, which will allow a minimum of one week for businesses to review, seek guidance and prepare for the first possible implementation of the order Nov. 4 at 5 p.m.

The document also provided information on the health department's staff, which it says is working day-in-and-day-out responding to the rise in case numbers in the community with five permanent staff having been reassigned from their typical job duties to COVID-19.

It says an additional seven temporary part-time staff are helping assist, and the department is in an ongoing push to hire new staff through collaboration with Montana State University-Northern at least through Dec. 31.

"We have not been able to find assistance in a fast-enough manner to respond to the increase in cases as quickly as we normally would," the document says.

Larson said she's spent much of the past week fielding calls by people asking about the health department enforcing Phase 2 re-opening restrictions and Bullock's mask directive as well as business closures.

She said she's also received many phone calls by people looking to hold large events and said the health department is maintaining its recommendations to cancel such events amid the surge of COVID-19.

Despite the situation, Larson said, there is still no community spread and the health department can tell for now where all of these cases are coming from, but the study of the spread is ongoing and the department will let the public know if and when things change.

Closing school, business access

She also mentioned that Havre Public Schools has suspended in-person instruction until Oct. 28, which she said was a good move on their part.

"I think that's a very positive step," she said, "Showing support for our community and doing their part."

Others in the community have followed suit, she said, including businesses and sports organizations, which she said are also impacting the situation positively.

Larson also said the department's new immunization nurse just started which will help the department with flu vaccines during this busy time.

She said Wednesday at noon the Hill County Health Board will hold its quarterly meeting, the agenda for which can be seen on page A5.

The next COVID-19 update will be Friday at 1 p.m.


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