Montana reports 301 new COVID cases over the weekend; 30 in Missoula County

State health officials reported 301 new cases of COVID-19 over the weekend, including 30 new cases in Missoula County, marking one of the city’s highest weekend figures since the start of the pandemic.

Over the past five days, the state has reported more than 910 new cases and is set to see its total case count surge past the 3,000 mark this week barring a sudden reduction in infections.

As of Sunday evening, the virus has claimed 37 lives across the state. More than 1,421 cases are considered active and 47 people are currently being hospitalized. Two more deaths were announced on Friday.

“I am sorry to hear of the death of two more Montanans due to COVID-19,” Gov. Steve Bullock said of the latest deaths. “On behalf of all Montanans, I extend sympathy to their loved ones and community members. It’s clear this virus is incredibly dangerous to older Montanans, and we must commit ourselves to continue fighting this virus to protect our high-risk family members and neighbors.”

In an effort to slow the spread of the virus, Bullock last week followed a number of other states in issuing a mask requirement for ages 5 and up in indoor and outdoor spaces used by the public. The regulation covers counties with four or more active cases of coronavirus.

“This is a welcome directive that’s in aliment with our local operations,” said Cindy Farr, incident commander for the pandemic in Missoula. “We’re hopeful the statewide mandate, when used in conjunction with other safety practices, will help slow the spread of COVID-19.”

Health officials in Missoula this week also expressed concern over a lag in test results – an issue Bullock touched on during a Wednesday press conference.

The Missoula County-County Health Department said it was taking between seven and 14 days to get the results of a test back from labs both in and out of Montana.

The delay is holding up the county’s control measures, including the isolation of infected patients, the tracing of known contacts and the quarantine of those contacts.

As of Sunday evening, Missoula County had 90 active cases – nearly double the number on Friday morning. Health officials are tracing more than 350 close contacts. One Missoula county resident remains hospitalized.

“All cases and close contacts are in quarantine and isolation and will continue being supported as needed,” Farr said. “We’ll continue seeing cases, but this (mask order) will help slow the spread and distribute it across time.”

The governor’s mask order goes further than the county’s by requiring those 5 and older to wear face coverings when indoors and outdoors in certain public settings.

“People in Missoula County are required to wear face coverings until further notice regardless of the number of active cases in Montana,” Farr said.