Governor announces Montana’s first coronavirus death; cases continue to climb

Gov. Steve Bullock late Thursday announced the first death in Montana of a COVID-19 patient.

And as the U.S. took the global lead in its number of cases with more than 81,000, Montana’s number of positive cases jumped to 90.

As Bullock issued his shelter-in-place order Thursday afternoon, the Governor’s Coronavirus Task Force reported that Montana’s 19 new cases included one Missoula man in his 50s, bringing the city’s total to seven.

Less than three hours after his Thursday press briefing, Bullock announced the state’s first death.

“I’m heartbroken to learn of Montana’s first death due to COVID-19,” the governor said in a statement. “Especially during these times, Montana truly is one big small town – this news hits us hard, but we’re in this together. My family and I send our love and support to the family, friends, and community of our fellow Montanan.”

Health officials were still in the process of contacting the patient’s family members. No additional information was provided by the state, including the patient’s age or location.

Across Montana, 16 counties now have COVID-19 cases, with the latest addition on Thursday being Meagher County.

Gallatin County’s total jumped to 38 after 14 new cases were added Thursday. Where some of Gallatin County’s earlier cases were young adults in their 20s, Thursday’s cases covered a wider age range from three in their 20s to four in their 50s.

Gallatin County’s high number of cases could result from two factors: more tests being completed or more people traveling through the state’s busiest airport. Because people travel from around the nation to ski Big Sky, especially during spring break, and others have chosen the area for second homes, Bozeman probably suffered from a lot more people moving through during this winter when the pandemic was just starting.

One of Bozeman’s cases is a resident of California and another is a resident of New Hampshire.

The next county with the most cases is Yellowstone County with 14, one of which was reported Thursday.

As of Thursday, 2,680 tests have been completed. Seven of those were conducted on people who had been admitted to a hospital, according to the Task Force website.

The Task Force doesn’t indicate where the tests were collected, so it’s difficult to tell if one county is testing more than another.