Montana sees 1st COVID-19 death, reaches 90 cases statewide
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Montana sees 1st COVID-19 death, reaches 90 cases statewide

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Health care workers file COVID-19 tests at a drive-up testing facility at St. Peter's Health on March 24 in Helena. 

The first Montana has died from COVID-19, Gov. Steve Bullock announced late Thursday evening.

“I’m heartbroken to learn of Montana’s first death due to COVID-19. 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 press release. "My family and I send our love and support to the family, friends, and community of our fellow Montanan.” 

Local county public health officials were still in the process of contacting family members, according to a release from the governor's office, which said that no further information would be immediately released.

The news came on a day when Montana reached 90 known cases of COVID-19 by Thursday afternoon, with more than a third in Gallatin County, according to test results announced by the state.

That's a rise of 21 cases from Wednesday night. Almost 2,700 people have been tested at the state public health lab in Montana. 

Two smaller, more rural counties in northwestern Montana, Toole and Lincoln, picked up their first case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, over the last two days.

So did Hill County, with a larger population center of Havre. Cases are identified by county, not town, because of concerns about patient privacy, so it's not possible to narrow down a patient's precise location within a county.

Gallatin County still has the most known cases in the state by more than double the next closest county, at 38.

Yellowstone County has 14, Missoula has seven, Cascade and Flathead each have five, Butte-Silver Bow and Lewis and Clark each have five, Madison and Broadwater have two, and Jefferson, Ravalli, Roosevelt, Hill, Toole, Meagher and Lincoln each have one.

The state also reported seven hospitalization from the coronavirus Wednesday. 

Gov. Steve Bullock on Thursday issued a shelter-in-place order, a measure meant to keep the state's 1.06 million residents at home in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The order takes effect Saturday at 12:01 a.m.

Bullock earlier issued an emergency order in Montana, and public K-12 schools closed, as have universities. Businesses like bars and gyms, where people congregate, are closed, though some can offer to-go options.

The governor also earlier prohibited nonessential social and recreational gatherings of more than 10 people outside a home or place of residence, if a distance of at least 6 feet between people cannot be maintained. He also told stores to follow rules keeping people 6 feet apart, though he exempted essential places like grocery stores, health care facilities and pharmacies.

Also this week, Bullock said counties could choose to conduct the June 2 by mail.

Patrick Reilly contributed to this article.

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The largest hospitals in Montana, in response to questions sent by Lee Newspapers, said last week they have all taken steps to prepare for a surge in COVID-19 patients. That means increasing bed capacity and inventories of critical supplies, though they are facing the same supply-chain issues that facilities are nationwide.

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