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School COVID-19 cases continue steady increase in Montana

School COVID-19 cases continue steady increase in Montana

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Positive COVID-19 cases continued to increase in Montana schools, paralleling a wider increase in active cases across the state.

There are now at least 891 students and employees in Montana schools who have contracted COVID-19, according to a report from state health officials. It’s the second week in a row of a 200-plus increase in the total.

The cases have led to a wide array of reactions from school across the state, ranging from building closures to isolated quarantines.

Cases linked to universities have also continued to rise, hitting 667. Nearly 150 cases were added.

The report included data recorded up to Oct. 9. It provides a backdated snapshot of cases in schools, as reported from county health departments to the Department of Health and Human Services.

In Yellowstone County, a large number of cases continued to be unassigned to schools. Between students and staff, 84 cases haven’t been assigned to a school. State officials have attributed to gap to delays in contact tracing and reporting from county health officials.

School administrators and health officials have acknowledged that isolated cases popping up in schools will be “inevitable,” and have focused efforts on preventing further spread within a school.

The degree to which the report sheds light on that issue is debatable; some schools have recorded significant per-student increases, but it’s unclear whether spread is attributable to a school setting or outside circumstances.

Some school administrators have argued that data in previous reports has had errors, portraying a slow rise in cases as inaccurately steep. Department of Health and Human Services officials have said the report is a “work in progress.”

What is clear is that the pandemic has affected schools regardless of size or geography. Thirteen colleges and 275 K-12 schools or school systems have now recorded positive cases in the state.

Kalispell’s public school system, which does its own reporting in addition to the state report, had 24 active cases and almost 300 students or employees quarantined as of Oct. 13; the state report listed 61 total cases this school year between the district’s two high schools and middle school.

Terry’s public schools, located in the tiny Eastern Montana town just off I-90, have recorded 14 student cases and a staff case.

In Yellowstone County, several schools saw small increases. The largest increase was in the number of unassigned cases, which rose from 64 last week to 84 in this week’s report. The total number of cases that were assigned to schools rose from 80 to 92 in the county.

Big Horn County has recorded significant increases in the last two reports; public schools in Hardin and Crow Agency have recorded 76 total cases, up about 20 cases from last week’s report.

Montana State University in Bozeman recorded the largest increase among universities with almost 60 new cases, bringing the schools’ total to 217. The University of Montana in Missoula registered 32 new cases, bringing the schools' total to 241. 

The University of Montana Western in Dillon nearly doubled its case count, totaling 59 cases.

The report has been issued on Wednesdays in past weeks; however, the latest version wasn't posted until Thursday. 

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