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Lewis and Clark County COVID-19 situation improving as school year begins

Posted at 7:41 PM, Sep 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-02 14:25:20-04

Leaders with Lewis and Clark Public Health say they’re more comfortable with local students returning to classes, after the COVID-19 situation in the county improved over the last two weeks.

County health officer Drenda Niemann said they have been in regular contact with all school districts in Lewis and Clark County, giving them advice on how to plan around the coronavirus.

Helena Public Schools is starting the year with students having two days a week of in-person classes. Niemann said all the other districts have returned to classrooms full-time. She praised all local schools for their COVID-19 plans.

“One-size-fits-all wouldn’t have worked,” she said. “It was really important that the district thought through what their resources were and then had Public Health as their partner in figuring out how to do it the best possible way with the resources they have.”

At the end of July and the start of August, Lewis and Clark County was seeing some of its highest COVID-19 case numbers.

“We were coming off of some pretty rough times after the Fourth of July,” said Niemann. “We were coming off of some really high case counts – 34 in a week was pretty overwhelming for Public Health to do our jobs.”

HPS leaders said it would be difficult to start the year with any in-person classes unless public health indicators improved. Since then, though, the number of active cases in the county has fallen to just 13.

Niemann said Public Health has seen indications that steps like requiring masks, encouraging distancing and limiting large gatherings are now showing results. Public Health has also added more staff to handle its COVID-19 response.

While the situation has improved, Niemann said they will still be vigilant as the school year continues.

“We anticipate cases come with back to school and with back to extracurricular activities, but if schools are able to follow their plans, it should be fairly minimal, the impact,” she said. “It’s a wait-and-see game at this point, and we’re going to monitor that very closely in cooperation with schools.”

Niemann said public health leaders are asking people in Lewis and Clark County to keep following the recommendations about slowing the spread of the virus – especially during the upcoming Labor Day weekend.

You can find Lewis and Clark Public Health's latest information on COVID-19 here.