Montana Sees First Coronavirus-Related Death; Details Few
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A Montana resident who had COVID-19 has died, marking the state’s first death related to the disease caused by the coronavirus, Gov. Steve Bullock said.
Bullock announced the death Thursday night, but did not release the person’s identity or where the person lived. Health officials were contacting relatives, he said.
“Especially during these times, Montana truly is one big small town – this news hits us hard, but we’re in this together,” Bullock said in a statement. “My family and I send our love and support to the family, friends, and community of our fellow Montanan.”
On Saturday, a two-week stay-at-home order goes into effect for the state’s 1 million residents in the latest attempt to fight the spread of the coronavirus.
Under it, people will be allowed to leave home to shop for necessities such as food, to seek medical care and for outdoor activities — as long as they stay 6 feet (1.83 meters) apart from one another — among other exceptions. Essential activities, services and businesses will be allowed to continue uninterrupted.
But he said this additional step was needed to ensure the state does “everything we can to cut off the chain of transmission.”
“I’d rather be accused of overreacting than to have the health care system overwhelmed,” he said.
The state had 90 cases as of Thursday night.
Most are in urban areas — Gallatin County, where Bozeman is, tops the list at 38 — but individual cases also have begun to appear in rural areas such as Hill, Toole, Roosevelt and Lincoln counties.
Before Bullock issued his order, the Montana Hospital Association wrote the governor to urge him to take that step.
“A large percentage of our elderly populations reside in our most rural communities. While our rural hospitals have taken extraordinary measures to prepare for COVID-19 in their communities, these facilities are simply not equipped to handle a high volume of acute cases,” the unsigned letter dated Thursday said.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.
The order is likely to accelerate the economic blow already caused by the coronavirus, which was illustrated Thursday with the release of federal jobless claims. That data from the U.S. Department of Labor and the state showed the number of unemployment claims for the week that ended March 21 rose 1,700% compared with the week before, and 1,900% compared with last year.
But Bullock said the economic harm is likely to be greater if the stay-at-home order isn’t followed.