Missoula health officials report 2 new COVID cases, signs of community spread

Cindy Farr, head of the pandemic response for Missoula County, confirmed two new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and said one case resulted from community spread. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file photo)

Health officials in Missoula confirmed two new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, including one new case with no known contacts to a known case, suggesting the virus may be showing signs of community spread.

Missoula saw its case numbers peak in March and April and decline over the past few weeks, even as health officials have permitted businesses to open and larger events to move forward.

The two cases reported Tuesday raised new concern among health officials.

“Preliminary investigation indicates that while one of the cases had travel history, the other had no travel history or known contact to a known case, meaning there’s evidence of community spread in Missoula County,” said Cindy Farr. “These cases and known cases are in quarantine and isolation and will continue to be monitor as needed.”

The two patients were identified only as men in their 40s.

Gov. Steve Bullock lifted a number of restrictions on June 1 as the state entered Phase 2 of its reopening. That permitted bars and restaurants to boost capacity to 75% of normal, and it ended the mandatory quarantine of residents and visitors entering the state.

Montana has reported 614 cases of coronavirus and 19 deaths since the pandemic began, including 60 cases that were listed as active on Tuesday morning. Missoula County has had 44 cases and one death.

Three cases remain active in Missoula, according to Farr.

“It’s still very much with us,” said Farr. “While numbers in Montana have been relatively flat or at a plateau, we are starting to see our case numbers increasing again. Last week new active cases more than doubled our cases for the week prior in the sate. We expect this upper trend to continue.”

Gatherings related to the Black Lives Matter protest have brought large crowds together in recent weeks, not only across the country, but in Missoula and other Montana cities.

The ongoing events, coupled with growing consumer confidence and the reopening of businesses and other events, have prompted health officials to issue words of caution and precaution to those going out.

Farr urged those participating in demonstrations or out shopping to wear face coverings and to maintain social distancing. As was the case in March and April, fears over a resurgence of the virus and its strain on the elderly and the local healthcare system haven’t vanished.

“As the county and state reopens, and travel restriction ease and group sizes increase, we must remain diligent about safety,” said Farr. “We’re all eager to return to a sense of normalcy. But we need to check and recheck our ideas of safety and preparedness before participating in large events.”