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Montana data: Tourists not responsible for many COVID cases

Montana data: Tourists not responsible for many COVID cases

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There isn’t much evidence to show that tourists and out-of-state visitors have contributed significantly to the cumulative number of COVID-19 cases either in Montana or in specific counties since the start of the pandemic.

A total of 250 people who don’t live in Montana have tested positive in Montana since the start of the pandemic. The state is reporting 20,210 total cases of COVID-19 in Montana since the first case was reported in early March, although the state’s numbers don’t reflect the most recent county-level data on new cases.

Travel-associated cases in the state, which also included Montana residents who travel, account for only 5% of known transmission routes since the outbreak started.

"The impact of out-of-state visitors to Montana or travel-associated cases overall has shown to be minimal,” said Erin Loranger, the press secretary for Montana Gov. Steve Bullock’s office.

A report put out on Oct. 2, by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services’ Communicable Disease Epidemiology Section, looked at transmission trends.

"Travel‐related transmission contributed to most cases early in the outbreak and then declined significantly, contributing only sporadically to new cases over time,” the report said. “Persons are more likely to acquire the virus through contact with a known case, especially within a household, or during a cluster investigation.”

In early and mid-March, when there were about a dozen confirmed cases in Montana, about 60% of cases were associated with travel. However, travel-associated cases dropped to nearly 5% by mid-April and then spiked again to about 40% in mid-May, before dropping to almost zero by the end of May. Since then, travel-associated cases have steadily decreased and have not accounted for much more than 10% in the state and are currently down to about 5%.

The report noted that travel-related transmissions accounted for 13% of new cases in Flathead County as of Oct. 2, and for 12% of new cases in Missoula County.

The study also showed that congregate settings have caused clusters of new cases in Montana.

“A congregate setting is an environment where a number of people reside, meet or gather in close proximity for either a limited or extended period of time,” the report said. “Examples of congregate settings include homeless shelters, group homes, prisons, detention centers, schools and workplaces. There are 28 counties that have reported at least one congregate setting with a COVID‐19 outbreak in Montana. The counties with the most outbreaks in congregate settings are Yellowstone (31%), Flathead (12%), Gallatin (9%) and Cascade (8%) and most outbreaks occur in schools, assisted living facilities and long‐term care facilities but outbreaks in other settings, such as correctional facilities, group homes and mental health facilities have also been reported.”

In Missoula County as of Oct. 14, 61% of known active cases are associated with other known cases, while 36% of active cases are the result of community-acquisition.

In Missoula County, travel-related cases account for only 5% of the 489 current active COVID-19 cases. 

“Current exposure data suggests that we continue exposing and transmitting COVID to those folks that we are closest to — our family, friends, peers, colleagues, etc.,” explained Mary Parrish, Missoula County’s public information officer for the COVID-19 response. “The data, however, also indicates that COVID prevention measures are effective, especially when used together, as we are seeing an increase in new cases due to close contact and a decrease in new cases related to community acquisition.”

Missoula County has had 17 people test positive that didn't reside in Montana, which is 7% of all cases. Flathead County has had 46 total non-resident cases (19% of that county's total) and Gallatin County has had 49 total cases (20% of that county's total cases). In majority of Montana counties, out-of-state cases account for less than 1% of total cumulative cases.

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