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'Mask up': Cascade County leaders plead for community's help to curb spread of COVID-19

Posted at 7:27 PM, Oct 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-25 21:57:05-04

Cascade County business and government leaders are pleading with community members to step up and help curb the spread of coronavirus in the county. It comes as cases continue to surge across the state, and regional hospitals are hitting capacity.

Benefis Hospital is reportedly operating at 113% capacity. According to aThursday reportfrom the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, more than 90% of beds are occupied at Benefis Hospital, 55% of which are occupied by COVID-19 patients. Nineteen patients are in the Intensive Care Unit, 18 of which are on ventilators. The Great Falls Clinic is operating at more than 100%.

"That's why we're pleading, just let's all do the right thing," said Shane Etzwiler, president and CEO of the Great Falls Chamber of Commerce, "and definitely decrease the impact on the hospitals."

The Cascade City-County Health Department is set to consider more restrictions at a Board of Public Health meeting on Wednesday, October 28. Those restrictions could include reducing business capacity from 75% to 50%, and further limiting indoor gathers (the current limit is 250 people). But community leaders — including many who serve on the Board of Public Health — would rather not have to implement those restrictions.

A group of community leaders is leading the call for business owners and community members to do their part, by wearing masks in public places, maintaining a social distance of six feet and doing what they can to curb the spread of the virus. Many of them understand the need for further restrictions, but would rather the community step up and take the necessary steps to prevent them instead.

"We don't want that," Etzwiler said. "They're talking about further restrictions, and no one in our community can affort that; we don't want that. We want people to still go on and live their lives, but also with the understanding that we need to protect each other."

Rebecca Engum, executive director of Great Falls Tourism, said that until Cascade County becomes a safe travel destination, she'll continue to advocate for businesses to do their part.

"We are wearing our masks," she said. "We're keeping our distance; we are sanitizing and washing hands. These are important steps we can take to keep our businesses open."

Although a few businesses in Cascade County have been issued "orders of corrective action," many are taking the right precautions: requiring customers and employees to wear masks, social distancing, sanitizing products and limiting occupancy. One of the businesses doing things right is Candy Masterpiece in downtown Great Falls. Owner Angie Bruskotter said if everyone pitches in, the community can help calm things down.

"If we all just take little steps, it's going to help us all in the end," she said.

There were 746 new cases and three new deaths added to the total on the Montana COVID-19 tracking site on Sunday morning. The data below is from the official Montana website on October 25:

  • TOTAL CASES & RECOVERIES: There have been 27,880 cumulative cases, with 17,832 people now listed as recovered.
  • HOSPITALIZATIONS: There are 357 current hospitalizations, and a cumulative total of 1,229 hospitalizations.
  • DEATHS: The cumulative number of deaths in Montana is now 297.
  • ACTIVE CASES: There are currently 9,751 active COVID-19 cases in Montana.
  • TESTING: There were 1m577 completed tests, for a new cumulative state-wide total of 465,607.

Numbers reported by the state each day occasionally differ from those reported by county public health departments due to periodic lag times in reporting data to the state. We encourage people to check the official website and/or Facebook page of their respective county health department for any information that is not yet included in the state's daily updates.

It's important to note that not every person who tests positive actually becomes ill or exhibits symptoms. Many do not; of those who do become sick, some experience mild symptoms and do not require hospitalization. Others, however, do require hospitalization, as noted in the daily update on the number of people hospitalized. However, every person who does test positive for COVID-19 has the potential to spread the virus to other people, including family members and friends, which is why public health officials continue to encourage everyone to wear a mask and maintain at least the recommended six feet of "social distance" when in public.

The Great Falls Clinic posted the following message on Facebook on Wednesday afternoon: "Today we are at 100% capacity. Although we do not have an ICU, we have four special care beds, all of which are full with COVID-19 patients. Benefis has reached 113% capacity. Benefis ICU is also full with 21 patients, 19 of those patients have COVID-19." As of Friday morning, there have been 14 deaths due to COVID in Cascade County; there are currently 859 active cases and 823 recovered cases in Cascade County.

Montana officials announced Friday that there is now an online complaint form for people to report violations of COVID-19 health mandates. “The Consumer Complaint Form will allow citizens to report their concerns about businesses and events that have not enacted the directives intended to protect everyone,” Bullock said. “All Montanans deserve a safe community and healthy environment, and reporting these concerns means we’re looking out for each other.”

The Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services already uses the Consumer Complaint Form to investigate public health issues such as possible cases of salmonella and other food-borne illnesses. The form has been updated to include concerns related to COVID-19 public health directives. The information received will allow the state to track cases with numerous complaints and follow up on the most egregious ones. Click here to visit the site/form.