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Updates on COVID and vaccines in Cascade County

Posted at 9:46 AM, Feb 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-18 11:46:20-05

GREAT FALLS — A representative from the Cascade City-County Health Department gave an update on COVID-19 restrictions and vaccines at Tuesday night’s Great Falls City Commission meeting.

Wednesday, February 17, marks four weeks that the county has had a virus spread rate under the target of 25 new cases per 100,000 people, which means all the current COVID-19 restrictions on capacity restrictions are set to expire. Cascade County removed its mask mandate on January 21. The County Board of Health will meet on Wednesday (February 17) to discuss potentially reinstating any of the measures, or if they think that it is okay to let the measures expire.

The CCHD notes that businesses, schools, and other agencies do have the ability to implement their own policies regarding face coverings should they wish to do so.

The county is also gearing up to reopen COVID-19 vaccination appointment signups on Thursday, February 18. This time, though, all appointments will be made through an online portal at

“It’s much more efficient, with the limited staffing that we have, to use the online portal,” said Anna Attaway, CCHD spokesperson. “We know most people will have the ability to find someone that can help them if they are really not able to use an online portal for scheduling.”

The county had been using a phone hotline and dedicated email to help people schedule appointments. Attaway also said that they were finishing up a week of only vaccinating people that were on the wait list. That wait list will now also be discontinued. She said that this is because, at this point, the list is just about empty, and local health officials are ready to start making more appointments beginning on Thursday.

Attaway told the commissioners that nearly 4,000 people in Cascade County have received their first dose of the vaccine as of February 15. Approved vaccination locations in the county also began administering second doses of the vaccine on February 15. The link for new vaccination appointments will be available on the webpage listed above beginning at 9:00 A.M. on Thursday, February 18. As of that date, vaccinations will be available to anyone in the county 70 years or older, and anyone 60-69 with a qualifying underlying health condition. A list of qualifying medical conditions can also be found at the link above.

During the meeting, City Commissioners also discussed the Great Falls Public Library and Great Falls Fire Rescue:

The City of Great Falls has approved the Great Falls Public Library’s request to make their final payment for a new basement flooding mitigation project. According to library officials, the building has dealt with flooding problems for years, and water has been known to enter the building from multiple locations when heavy rain or melting snow hit the area.

“In 2019, it became really severe,” explained Library Director Susie McIntyre. “The penetration of the wall was compromised and so every time there was major water (in the area), we had water dumping into the library.”

The library says the project came in roughly $8,000 over budget, for a number of reasons. Official documents provided by the city cite inconsistencies on original project drawings and plans, damage to electrical outlets causing additional electrical work, and a faulty nearby water line as the reasons for the higher cost.

McIntyre explained that it’s funded by an anonymous donation that was designated for capital improvements. Capcon LLC recently completed the project “in accordance with the plans.” According to city documents, those plans included replacing a storm drain pipe inside the building, connecting that new pipe to a water main on 2nd Ave North, and repairing parts of the wall around the pipe.

On Tuesday night, the Great Falls City Commission gave the Great Falls Fire Rescue the go-ahead to submit a FEMA application requesting a grant worth $1.17M. If their application is approved, the money will be put towards a new 107’ Aerial Apparatus to replace the Fire Rescue’s current 1996 Smeal 75’ Quint.

The estimated cost for the new truck is $1.25M, according to the city, plus an additional $50,000 which the GFFR says will go towards additional equipment.

“According to the National Fire Protection Association, Annex D, they also recommend replacing aerial apparatuses at the 25 year mark,” explained Great Falls Fire Rescue Chief, Jeremy Jones. “We are now at 26.”

The $130,000 discrepancy between the grant amount and the projected total cost will be paid for by the city. Neither the city nor the Fire Rescue specified how long they expect FEMA to respond to the application.

According to city documents, the use of the vehicle that the Fire Rescue hopes to replace has been stunted by cost and service issues.

Documents provided by the city detail the current issues:

“The 1996 Smeal 75’ Ladder Truck (Quint) has had some significant structural problems during its operational service time with GFFR. Some of these issues required transporting the vehicle back to the manufacturer in 2004 for frame and body strengthening. Unfortunately this apparatus was not specified correctly for weight and service requirements prior to its purchase. Since 2004, this apparatus has seen limited use as a reserve aerial apparatus for the citizens of this community. This has been in part due to increased mechanical cost to operate and unreliability to stay in service.”

According to FEMA’s (Federal Emergency Management Agency) website, a FEMA inspector should contact the Fire Rescue within 10 days of the application submission date. Inspectors make ask a series of questions about damage or harm caused by the subject of the application. Then, FEMA should send a decision letter with 10 days of that phone call.