County has 2 more COVID cases; caution urged as holiday nears

Sam Klomhaus and Justin Post — Enterprise Staff Writers
Tuesday, June 30, 2020
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Enterprise photo by Nate Howard

Park County Health Department officials, the Montana National Guard and local volunteers conduct testing Saturday June 20 at Park High School. 

The state of Montana announced Tuesday two new confirmed COVID-19 cases in Park County, bringing the county’s total case count to 11.

There are now three active cases in the county, according to a Park County Health Department news release, with two more that have tested presumptive positive and are being retested.

According to the release, the three active cases developed symptoms of COVID-19 and isolated themselves. All three are recovering at home, and contact tracing is in progress.

The other two, according to the release, tested positive as part of surveillance testing efforts in Livingston and Gardiner June 19 and 20. Both are well and have no other risk factors for COVID-19, the release said.

Park County Health Department Director Julie Anderson said Tuesday the majority of tests from the surveillance efforts, which tested about 1,000 people, have come back.

“It has taken much longer than we expected to get test results from the Montana State Health Lab. They are operating nearly 24 hours a day, and processing more than 10,000 tests weekly,” the release said.

Park County still has a relatively low case count, Anderson said, which is due in large part to the community acting responsibly during the pandemic.

“That’s really the community that’s keeping those numbers down,” she said.

The Health Department has opened a testing facility in downtown Livingston, near the Park County Senior Center and K. Potter Fine Art, Anderson said. 

Anderson would like the facility to be open three to four days a week, and is hoping to have a set schedule next week. She said the facility and other community testing efforts have seen great turnouts.

The testing facility opened on Monday, with one person tested every five minutes, Park County Health Officer Dr. Laurel Desnick told the Park County Commission on Tuesday.

Desnick said the site is located in a very public, accessible area of Livingston in close proximity to the Park County Senior Center, Community Health Partners and Park High School.

“As far as our target population, it couldn’t be more perfect,” Desnick told commissioners.

The testing site does not share the same ventilation as the Senior Center, despite their close proximity, she said.

“There is no possibility of leakage into the building from our space,” she said.

This facility is for testing asymptomatic people, Anderson said, as the Health Department is still referring people with COVID-19 symptoms to Livingston HealthCare. She said the department doesn’t want symptomatic people interacting with asymptomatic people at the testing site.

The testing site could be helpful for people who are asymptomatic but are traveling through, have traveled recently or are thinking of traveling, Anderson said.

Commissioners on Tuesday approved a rental agreement for the testing site, at a cost of $600 per month. Officials said the county’s costs to rent the site are reimbursable as part of its ongoing coronavirus response.

As cases rise in Park County, Anderson said, the Health Department has thought about putting more restrictions in place as the summer season leads to more gatherings. Local governments are allowed to place additional restrictions to what Gov. Steve Bullock has already ordered during the pandemic.

“We are definitely watching really closely,” Anderson said.

Anderson said the Health Department is preaching the “three W’s,” which are “wait for large gatherings, wash your hands and wear a mask.”

“We don’t want to have to phase back,” Anderson said, but noted that could happen if the community doesn’t rally to wear masks and wash hands.

Desnick said she’s encouraging area businesses to keep their occupancy rates low over the upcoming Fourth of July holiday, to consider closing early and to have as much activity in an outdoor setting as possible.

At the same time, she said there should not be any large gatherings over the holiday weekend, regardless of whether they are indoors or outdoors.

“Now we have examples of events, weddings, street fairs, outdoor events that have had spread,” Desnick said.

She added that wearing a mask substantially decreases risks associated with the virus, telling commissioners there would not be an active pandemic in the country if a majority of people wore masks.

“It really is a mask issue, and that is for all of us to take to heart very, very seriously,” Desnick said.

She compared wearing a mask to seat belts and said people should get in the habit of wearing a mask when in public.

“We have the chance to keep it low in Park County, but I think (that chance is) right now,” Desnick said.

Statewide, the confirmed COVID-19 case count rose by 49 Tuesday, which makes for 105 new confirmed cases in the past two days. Montana has recorded 967 confirmed cases in total.

The state reports there are currently 303 active cases in Montana, with 12 active hospitalizations.