Statewide COVID-19 spike includes first verified cases in Lincoln
Montana has recently seen a drastic uptick in the number of COVID-19 cases, with 622 new cases reported Monday, Oct. 26. Of those, 29 were in Lewis and Clark County.
According to the Lewis and Clark County Public Health Department's COVID-19 Dashboard, the county had 598 active cases Monday. Those numbers have been increasing by between 20 and 30 new cases per day throughout October.
"Montana is in a critical situation right now with COVID," Eric Merchant, Administrator for the Lewis and Clark County Communicable Disease Control and Prevention Division, told the BVD. "We have one of the highest infection rates in the country right now. So it's important that people assume COVID-19 is active in their community and act accordingly."
An April 7 directive from Gov. Steve Bullock allows information on specific community cases to be provided to local Emergency Services. Lincoln Volunteer Ambulance President Aaron Birkholz contacted Lewis and Clark Public Health and was able to verify there were currently four active cases in the community Monday morning. He noted a couple additional cases have already run their course and are no longer included as active. Birkholz also confirmed COVID-19 was a contributing factor in two local deaths, although he couldn't provide additional details.
Birkholz said if there are four active cases in Lincoln, people should assume there are probably at least 20 additional undiagnosed or asymptomatic cases here as well.
Merchant said testing for symptomatic cases and close-contact cases are seeing a 48-hour turn around, while results for asymptomatic cases generally take longer.
Merchant explained the county gets the test results from the state and follows up on the cases and any contact tracing from there. He said the system for doing that is well managed at the local level, but the sheer number of cases they're currently dealing with statewide can cause some temporary disconnects. He noted that confusion concerning individuals with vacation or second homes is one factor that could potentially affect reporting local cases to EMS in satellite communities like Lincoln.
Lincoln Fire Chief Zach Muse say if you are feeling sick, you should stay home and contact a healthcare provider. "Isolate yourself until you know for sure, and please let those in close contact with you know so they can watch for symptoms and get tested if needed."
Muse also said it's important to help community members if they are facing COVID-19 or a possible diagnosis.
"We can't treat folks any different. If a person has been confirmed and they are isolated, feel free to ask them if they need anything. You can set it on the porch or however you feel safe," he said. "Maybe just talking to them on the phone helps make them feel better. Usually they will be quarantined for 7-14 days. It gets lonely."
Merchant said it's important that community members remember the importance of maintaining social distancing, mask wearing, hand washing and not going to work sick.
"Right now it's just really important for people to be ultra-careful. It's all about personal responsibility right now," Merchant said. "Don't rely on anything but what you are able to do. Yes, the data is there, the data is accurate, the data says we have a problem. Use personal responsibility right now to protect yourself and others. We need people to be on board right now with taking care of themselves and thereby taking care of others."
For more information about what to do to keep yourself and others safe, or if you are experiencing symptoms, you can go to CDC.gov or to the Lewis and Clark County Health Departments COVID-19 page.
The county health department website, http://www.lccountymt.gov/health.html, includes links to resources not just for precautions and testing, but also for food assistance, small business assistance and mental health resources.
For a detailed look at the situation in the county, go to the "Up-to-Date information on COVID-19" link, then go to "By the Numbers."