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Montana records 3 additional deaths as cases soar

| July 9, 2020 12:46 PM

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — An outbreak of COVID-19 at a memory care facility in Billings has led to three deaths, Yellowstone County health officials said Thursday, as the state reported a single-day record of 96 confirmed cases of the virus.

A woman in her 70s died Monday, a woman in her 80s died Wednesday and a man in his 90s died Thursday, bringing the state's COVID-19 death toll to 26. All were patients at Canyon Creek Memory Care, which has reported 66 cases of the virus, including 45 among residents. All three died at the facility, county health officials said.

Monday’s death wasn’t reported until Thursday because health officials were waiting for the COVID-19 test to be processed, officials said.

“With the passing of these residents, we are reminded that our most vulnerable community members — elderly, immunocompromised, and those with chronic conditions — are especially at risk and we must continue to take measures to protect them from this disease,” John Felton, Yellowstone County Health Officer and RiverStone Health President, said in a statement.

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. The vast majority of people recover.

Thursday's cases raised the state's total known COVID-19 cases to 1,466, including 401 in the past week. Twenty-four people are hospitalized. The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

Felton urged individuals to wash their hands, maintain social distancing, and wear a mask.

“Our ability to follow these basic infection control measures can reduce serious illness, and death of the people we love, and the death of those loved by others. What we do now determines where we are in 3-4 weeks. We all need to recommit to taking care of each other,” he said.

Nearly half of the cases reported on Thursday were in Yellowstone County, which saw 46 new cases.

In another coronavirus-related development, gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte, his wife Susan Gianforte and his running mate Kristen Juras, tested negative for COVID-19, according to campaign officials. The three were tested after Susan Gianforte and Juras attended a Republican fundraiser in Big Sky on June 30 with Kimberly Guilfoyle, the girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr., who tested positive for the virus following the event.

U.S. House candidate and state Auditor Matt Rosendale and his wife, Jean Rosendale, who were also in attendance at the event, tested negative for COVID-19 earlier this week.

As the state continues its second phase of easing virus restrictions despite a sharp increase in virus cases, applications for unemployment benefits in Montana fell to 2,613 in the week ending July 4, a decrease of 3% from the previous week, the U.S. Employment and Training Administration said.

The number of applications submitted last week is still more than double what was submitted the same week last year.

Since March 14, the state has processed 123,292 unemployment claims. That represents 27% of the total workforce in the state eligible for the benefits.