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Montana coronavirus death toll rises to over 200

by By AMY BETH HANSON Associated Press
| October 9, 2020 1:00 PM

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana reported more than 700 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Friday and has topped 200 deaths since the pandemic began in mid-March. An increasing number of cases in the state's most populous county likely means residents there will be facing more restrictions to stop the spread of the respiratory virus.

On Monday, Yellowstone County Health Officer John Felton announced case benchmarks that would lead to county health officials to limit the allowed capacity of bars, restaurants and churches to 25%. If the county topped a daily average rate of 40 cases per 100,000 people by the last week in October, the restrictions would begin Nov. 2, he said.

However, if the county topped an average rate of 50 cases per day per 100,000 residents in any week before that, the restrictions would begin immediately, Felton said. Businesses that serve alcohol would be required to close at 10 p.m.

The county has confirmed 439 cases from Monday through Thursday, including 155 on Thursday, health department spokesperson Barbara Schneeman said Friday. If 126 more cases are confirmed Friday and Saturday — the numbers would be reported Saturday and Sunday — the restrictions would be put in place.

The county would likely announce the restrictions Monday but give businesses some time to make adjustments, Schneeman said.

Nine more deaths related to COVID-19 were reported statewide Friday, bringing the state's total to 206. One of the recent deaths was a Yellowstone County woman in her 40s.

"On the last day of July, we had lost 60 Montanans to COVID-19," Gov. Steve Bullock said in a statement. "Today, barely into October, over 200 Montanans have been taken from their families, friends, and communities."

"Disregarding expert advice from state and health officials, as well as the pleas of our frontline health workers and neighbors, is leading us down this concerning path," he said. He urged residents to follow guidelines and restrictions that are in place in order to keep schools and businesses open and safe while limiting the spread of the coronavirus.

Bullock on Wednesday declined to implement any new statewide restrictions to limit the spread of the coronavirus, despite the recent spike in cases. Instead, he continued to call on counties with large outbreaks to implement their own restrictions.

Flathead County, which has more than 1,000 people confirmed to be currently infected and announced 136 new cases on Friday, has not enacted any further restrictions.

The state has averaged more than 500 cases per day in the past seven days.

Montana has confirmed nearly 17,400 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began in mid-March. The numbers are believed to be far higher because not everyone has been tested and people can have COVID-19 without having symptoms.

More than 6,300 residents are still infected with the virus, 266 are hospitalized and over 10,800 are considered to have recovered because they no longer test positive for the coronavirus, state officials said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.