As the number of positive coronavirus cases climb across the state, including Missoula County, health officials here remain frustrated over a lack of supplies and the distribution process, and they suspect there are more cases than confirmed.
The number of positive cases in Missoula climbed to eight on Friday morning and 108 across Montana. So far, health officials have seen no evidence of community spread in Missoula, though they still believe it’s just a matter of time if it hasn’t already happened.
“So far, all we’re seeing is cases related to recent travel,” said Cindy Farr, a health official leading the local pandemic response. “There will come a time when we’ll start seeing community spread, but so far, all of our cases have been related to some form of travel.”
Farr said other counties, including Gallatin which now has 39 positive cases, have seen indications of community spread and have been for several days. Seven individuals across the state are being hospitalized and one person has died.
Farr said the individual was not from Missoula County.
“We do think we’ll start seeing signs of community spread, because when you have an entire population that has no immunity to a virus, you do know at some point it’s going to start spreading person to person within the community,” Farr told the Missoula Current on Friday.
“We’re not sure when that’s going to happen. It’s possible we’ve got cases of it out in the community that we just don’t know about yet, because our testing supplies have been somewhat limited, so we haven’t been able to test as many people as we’d like.”
Farr said it’s also possible that some counties, like Gallatin, are able to test more people. As a result, they’re reaching portions of the population that other counties like Missoula have not.
While no state figures are available on how many people each county tests on any given day, Farr said it likely comes down to the depth of their supplies when the pandemic hit.
“Every healthcare system started off the pandemic with a finite amount of supplies, and every community is going to be different in whatever supplies they had on stock and what supplies they’ve been able to acquire,” she said. “It’s possible other counties are testing more people, and that our healthcare system didn’t have a huge backstop of supplies when all this started.”
Getting supplies remains a major source of frustration for frontline workers who, in recent days, have disputed what politicians have been saying regarding availability.
Bullock also expressed frustrations this week and the challenges that result when one state is forced to bid against other states and the federal government for something as simple as swabs. Competition across the country has disrupted the supply chain, and the distribution process at the state level remains confusing.
“We don’t know how those supplies are getting distributed to the counties,” said Farr. “We’re all putting in our requests. We don’t have a clear sense of how or when we’ll get prioritized for that. It’s a little frustrating. The public is hearing it too, but we have yet to see it actually come. It’s just a matter of not knowing when it’s actually going to happen.”
While no concrete numbers are available, Farr estimated that around 450 individuals have been tested in Missoula County, the state’s second most populated county. No statewide figure was available on Friday.