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New COVID-19 guidelines on the way for Butte
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New COVID-19 guidelines on the way for Butte

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Butte-Silver-Bow Health Officer Karen Sullivan said Monday night she will  issue new health orders formally placing limits on groups and activities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic at a news conference at 1 p.m. Tuesday from the Butte-Silver Bow courthouse rotunda.  

The announcement coincides with two new deaths at Butte’s Continental Care and Rehabilitation nursing facility for a total of 12 deaths at the facility. The facility is now reporting that 38 residents and 19 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19.

The ongoing nursing facility outbreak combined with a spike of 119 active cases over the 73-hour period leading up to the announcement made Sullivan draw the line.   

“We are heading in the wrong, wrong direction,” she said.

The sudden increase brings the county to 300 active and 1,064 total cases of COVID-19 since the first case on March 13.

Sullivan said several metrics followed by the Health Department to assist in decision-making indicate that Butte-Silver Bow is facing its most challenging time to date with the virus.

“An incidence rate of more than 25 cases per 100,000 population has been identified by the Harvard Global Health Institute as being in the red zone risk level,” Sullivan said. “We are in the red zone, and then some.”

During the week of Oct. 31-Nov. 6, the county reported 190 positive cases, the highest weekly count to date. The county is now seeing, on average, 29 new cases per day, and 84 cases per 100,000 population. Sullivan said that metric — cases per 100,000 population — puts Butte-Silver Bow ahead of Yellowstone, Missoula, Lewis & Clark and Deer Lodge counties.

Sullivan added that the county has a positivity rate of 19.60%. Any percentage above 10% is also in the red zone risk level, as defined by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“That particular metric means that almost one in five people being tested in Butte-Silver Bow are positive with the virus,” she said.

The number of identified close contacts placed in quarantine also continues to increase in the county. For the week of Oct. 30-Nov. 6, the Health Department determined that 693 individuals were close contacts who needed to be quarantined and tested.

“This means that our cautions against groups gathering, against activities that attract crowds, the need for people to distance, just aren’t resonating with a segment of our population,” Sullivan said.

Part of her job is to keep students in in-classroom learning environments, at the K-12 and university levels, said Sullivan, adding that it’s also her responsibility to work with other healthcare entities in the county to prevent a surge at clinics and St. James Healthcare.

“We absolutely cannot have our hospital inpatient side and ICU side overrun,” Sullivan said. “We are sincerely hoping that a formal limit on groups and activities will help us steer our numbers in a new direction.”

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