GREAT FALLS - As of Wednesday, there were probably more places than not across the country no longer requiring masks. Social distancing, too, seems to have mostly become a thing of the past.
Health experts, however, said this doesn't mean COVID-19 is something we can forget about.
According to the state COVID website operated by the Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services (DPHHS) more than a dozen of the state's 56 counties had zero active COVID-19 cases, and only 10 had double-digit active cases.
"It definitely something that is almost a day-to-day change how much we need to worry about it,” said Shannon Elings, a public health nurse in Pondera County.
The county was among those with no active cases Wednesday.
"At this point, it's not something we're overly worried about, however another spike could be here before we know it. It could be here tomorrow and we could go back up to 50, 60 cases and it's definitely something we need to worry about with new variants and such coming out,” said Elings.
According to the state data, there were only four "daily cases" on March 29 compared to the peak number of almost 3,100 "daily cases" on Jan. 18.
That doesn't mean the end is in sight, though. Worldwide, cases also continue dropping, according to the World Health Organization, but the organization's latest data also showed there were still 10 million new infections reported.
"I do know that eventually it'll go from a pandemic to an endemic and that's something the CDC and state will have to decide,” Elings said.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a pandemic as a disease prevalent over a whole country or world, while an endemic is defined as a disease regularly found among particular people or in a certain area.
"We are seeing less hospitalizations, less cases, so it is certainly improving which we're thankful for,” said Fergus County Health Department Nursing Director Heather Thom.
There were nine active cases in the county Wednesday.
"We do want people to continue to be cautious and if they have symptoms make sure they're getting tested. We do have home (test) kits available,” Them said.
In Glacier County where there were two active cases Wednesday, the message was the same.
"We just need to be safe and continue educating our communities on ways to help prevent and stop disease before things get worse,” said Glacier County Health Department Interim Director Melissa Laverdure.
When asked whether or not COVID-19 policies like mask mandates should still be in place, she said she feels not having mask mandates anymore is okay.
“People just need to really watch their symptoms and if they’re not feeling well not to be in big crowds or largely populated areas,” Laverdure said.
The Cascade City-County Health Department in Great Falls provided the following statement to MTN:
All infectious disease should be taken seriously, but what that means for each disease will vary with the changing circumstances. Right now the COVID numbers in the area are encouragingly low, and the official recommendations on protective measures have adapted to match the current risk level.
Ultimately we must each decide what is right for ourselves, our families, and our community. You may be young, healthy, and at low risk for serious disease and feel comfortable dropping your guard. But that person behind you in line at the pharmacy might live with someone who cannot risk getting sick. As a community, it’s important we consider that others might be experiencing this same virus very differently and respect each other’s choices and unique circumstances.
If you do choose to let your guard down while the numbers are low, please keep in mind that this virus has shown an impressive ability to quickly mutate and evade immune protections, whether from a vaccine or a prior infection. In this area, we haven’t been hit with some of the variants now moving through other parts of the country and world. Things can change quickly and we must all be willing to be equally adaptable if the need arises.
Missoula County was reporting six new and 32 active COVID-19 cases on Wednesday.
MTN also contacted the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services for comment, but no one was available.