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COVID-19 cases continue to soar in Montana; three more dead as rumors and fears spread

Daily COVID-19 cases in Montana reflect the dramatic rise in infections. (Montana Department of Health and Human Services)

Less than a week removed from crossing 1,000 cases of COVID-19, Montana stands poised to hit 2,000 this week, marking a dramatic surge in infections in just a few days

State officials announced the death of three more people on Tuesday, bringing to 34 the number of those who have died due to the virus.

While the state issued no change in direction on Tuesday, officials did issue what’s become par for the course – an expression of grief and a plea to residents to protect others.

“I share the grief of Montanans mourning the continued losses of our own from COVID-19 and stress that the dangers of this virus to our most vulnerable make it all the more important that we work harder to protect one another,” Gov. Steve Bullock said in a statement. “As we stand with the community and comfort the loved ones of these Montanans, we cannot become complacent in the fight against COVID-19.”

Montana passed 1,000 cases on Friday, July 10, though on Tuesday, the number of cases had climbed to 1,952 and will likely hit 2,000 by Wednesday. More than 1,030 cases are considered active and 29 people are currently being hospitalized.

In Missoula County, which recently issued a mandatory face mask rule, the number of cases have climbed to 142. That’s far less than the similar counties of Yellowstone and Gallatin, which have recorded 557 and 417 cases respectively.

Neither has issued a face mask order, though Gallatin County attempted to do so on Tuesday. The health board there was forced to call its meeting off after members in attendance refused to social distance.

Missoula County health officials on Tuesday also pushed back on a rumor suggesting that local testing samples had been lost or misplaced.

“This is a rumor and it’s misinformation,” said Cindy Farr, head of the local response. “We fully own that test results and patient notifications are taking longer than anticipated. This is due to an overwhelming number of tests being submitted to labs for processing at this time.”

Farr said some tests, especially those for asymptomatic people, are being sent out of state to labs that are backlogged and taking longer to process results.

Local health officials said they are working as quickly as possible on patient notifications, though some labs are taking between 7 and 14 days to process results.

“In general, testing results and patient notification will take longer than expected, which is due to the overarching strain on the entire U.S. healthcare system,” said Farr. “It’s not just a Montana specific issue.”

Farr said Missoula County currently has three active hospitalizations and 44 active cases. Health officials are tracing 320 close contacts.