HELENA — Montana has seen one of its biggest spikes in new COVID-19 cases this past week – 136 total, the most since late March.
Gov. Steve Bullock and state health officials explained on Wednesday what they thought is behind the surge – and what can be done to slow it down.
The biggest increases have been in Big Horn, Custer and Yellowstone counties.
Jim Murphy with the Montana Bureau of Communicable Disease Prevention says a lot of factors are behind the clusters. He says there’s been more contact among people since businesses have re-opened -- and, more testing -- that has revealed more cases.
State epidemiologist Stacy Anderson also says some of the outbreaks came in group settings or by infected people traveling to a different city or town in Montana. They said people need to continue social distancing, including at work and if they can’t, then to wear a mask.
Gov. Bullock said he’s not going to require people to wear masks in public but that he’s strongly recommending it when social distancing can’t be achieved.
"We’re not asking folks to wear masks at all times. It makes no sense to do so when you’re fishing with your family or when you’re driving in your car alone. But do so at the grocery store, the pharmacy, grabbing a coffee, going into the gas station. That 15 minutes of inconvenience can make all the difference between one case turning into a dozen, or more."
Montana still has the lowest infection rate of any state in the lower 48 states.