Montana on Thursday reported 25 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus, the most in a day since late March as health officials in one county recommended a return to more stringent restrictions on activities.
The new cases came from every region of the state and reflect an emerging upward trend of infections since restrictions on social movements were eased in recent weeks.
They included two cases in Richland County in the northeast and four cases each in Big Horn County in the southeast, Gallatin county in the southwest and Flathead County in the northwest. Six other counties also reported new cases.
No new deaths were reported Thursday, leaving the number of fatalities at 20.
State officials have attributed the increase in confirmed cases over the past several weeks to moves to reopen the economy and increased testing for the virus.
The trend will likely worsen as the reopening progresses, the officials said.
The state has only had so many infections on two other days — March 26, when 35 cases were recorded, and March 28, when 25 cases were registered.
In Custer County, health officials recommended that businesses revert back to restrictions that had been eased last month when virus cases statewide were in decline.
The county that includes Miles City has recorded 19 infections since its first case appeared less than a week ago. The recommendations would have bars and restaurants operate at 50% capacity and limit gatherings to 10 or fewer people.
“We’re a tiny little town, and we have almost as many cases as Great Falls or Helena,” county health officer Michael Kecskes told the Billings Gazette.
Kecskes said the more stringent restrictions were known to be effective, but he was only offering them as recommendations because of limited resources to enforce them if they were made mandatory.
The continued troubles on the public health front came as applications for unemployment benefit payments in Montana continued their decline last week from the record high levels seen earlier this spring, according to the latest numbers form the U.S. Employment and Training Administration.
The number of unemployment benefit applications submitted in Montana during the week ending June 13 fell 2.1% compared with the previous week, to 3,013.
As of June 6, almost 43,000 people in the state were receiving unemployment benefits. That represents 9% of all eligible employees in the state. The maximum weekly payment is $1,152, which includes the federal supplement of $600 per week.
Since mid-March, the state has processed almost 115,000 unemployment claims, representing 25% of the eligible workforce.
The state is now testing everyone who comes in close contact with people who have the virus — whether they are symptomatic and asymptomatic. Previously, only symptomatic close contacts were tested.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. 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.