HELENA — The situation around the novel coronavirus escalated Saturday as the state reported two new cases and that two top state leaders were in isolation.
The two new presumptive positive cases are both from Missoula county. According to Governor Steve Bullock's Office, the Missoula County patients were a woman in her 30's and a male in his 50's.
Saturday test results bring the total number of cases in the state of Montana to six.
One of the patients identified Saturday night was Montana Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian.
A news release from the Montana University System said Christian was tested in Missoula County.
Officials suspect Commissioner Christian became exposed to the virus at the Montana Board of Regents meeting in Dillon on Thursday, March 5th.
The Governor's Office confirmed that a man from Silver Bow Co. who tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, also attended the Board of Regents meeting in Dillon. Lieutenant Gov. Mike Cooney, who is also a gubernatorial candidate, was at that meeting and has been tested for the virus. Cooney has tested negative for COVID-19 and has not had any symptoms but will self-quarantine until March 20th, 14 days from the point of exposure.
The MUS release noted that the commissioner is isolated and recovering at home.
Governor Bullock's office also released new details on the four original cases reported on Friday.
The Gallatin County man and the Yellowstone Co. woman reportedly acquired the virus through international travel.
Patients from Silver Bow County and Broadwater Co. acquired the virus through domestic travel to areas where the virus was known to be. On a press call, Saturday afternoon, officials confirmed that in both cases it was Washington state.
All four patients are recovering at home.
On that press call, the Governor's Coronavirus Task Forced announced it would ramp up testing efforts. The state lab will begin performing testing seven days a week, starting on Monday.
A State Emergency Coordination Center will also be set up Monday at Fort Harrison in Helena with a full-time team dedicated to the state's COVID-19 response efforts.
The state has tested 166 people and currently has about 850 test kits available with more on the way from the Centers for Disease Control.
Montana leaders have set up resources to update the public on the novel coronavirus. You can call the state hotline at 1-888-333-0461. You can also email the state at email@example.com or visit covid19.mt.gov.