County adds four COVID-19 cases

Health department receives surveillance test results nearly three weeks later, part of a statewide issue of slow test return rates
Hunter Herbaugh
Thursday, July 30, 2020

It took just short of three weeks for the Dawson County Health Department to get results of public COVID-19 testing that took place at the Dawson County Fairgrounds.

The testing took place July 7 and 8. While a few of the 315 test results trickled in last week, the department did not have all the full results until Monday, July 27.

Dawson County Health Department director Timber Dempewolf told the Board of Health members Friday that the delay was due to a large volume of tests being submitted nationwide.

“I’m hoping for a little more each day now that they’ve gotten to our batch,” Dempewolf said during Friday’s meeting.

As of Monday, all 315 tests from the fairgrounds had been returned. Two of the tests came back positive – a male in his 50s and a male in his 70s – adding two more cases for Dawson County. Those cases aren’t considered active as the 14 day quarantine period has passed.

Just prior to receiving those results, the health department received confirmation of an active case of COVID-19 involving a female in her 70s. On Tuesday, the department announced another case involving a female in her 40s.

With those, there have been 12 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Dawson County.

Dempewolf addressed the slow result return rate at Friday’s Board of Health meeting. After hearing the news, Dawson County Commissioner Dennis Zander questioned if, at that point, the test results were worthless as it had been more than two weeks since the tests were administered and collected.

Dempewolf acknowledged that in the case of a positive test, the results would be useless to the person they belong to, as that person would already be outside the recommended quarantine period. However, the test could still provide information that the state could use when formulating future policy in response to the pandemic.

“If you would have tested positive, you would already be out of the quarantine period, we would have to go back and try to identify contacts depending on when that came in. The surveillance testing will still provide data for the state,” Dempewolf said.

Dempewolf said although the two positive results discovered through the testing at the fairgrounds are not considered active, she added that they will still be interviewed to identify who they had come into close contact with during that time. Those people will then go through the normal contact tracing process.

Also present at the Dawson County Board of Health meeting Friday was Glendive Superintendent of Schools Stephen Schreibeis, who raised concerns that if testing is going to be so slow, it may have an impact on schools later this fall. The Glendive Unified School Board recently created a committee that will be focusing on forming a plan to determine how best to reopen schools with a hybrid model of in-person and online education. As Schreibeis pointed out, the common cold and influenza will also be an issue this fall and Schreibeis questioned if students show symptoms of any kind, will they be required to quarantine until they are tested for COVID-19.

“What are we gonna do if someone has a common cold? Are we gonna treat them like someone who possibly has COVID? Do we have them get tested? And if they are, we’re gonna have to wait seven to 14 days before they can come back to school and they might just have the common cold. There’s a lot of questions according to that, but this is an issue for everyone that we’re having to wait this long for testing,” Schreibeis said.

Schreibeis asked if there were currently any plans to develop a rural testing lab. Jill Domek, chairman of the health board and vice president of Clinical Services at Glendive Medical Center, noted that there are not enough health care workers in Glendive to run a lab capable of testing a large volume of tests. However local health officials are working to get the equipment necessary to develop a lab that can at least serve the community. The hospital is trying to get the supplies needed to operate the appropriate equipment, she said.

“At this time, we aren’t able to do rapid testing and get results out, but as we get supplies, we’re working with Billings Clinic to get more supplies, that will be an option but just for our area, our community,” Domek said.

Dempewolf added that the state has also put surveillance testing on hold to help address the backlog of tests.

On July 22, state officials announced they had partnered with Montana State University in Bozeman, whose lab has been authorized to test 500 samples per day and had finalized a contract with Mako Medical, a private lab in North Carolina, to process up to 1,000 tests per day. Other states are taking similar actions as wait times continue to increase for everyone, according to the associated press.

“We’re working to get out of that bottleneck with the lab,” Dempewolf said.

She noted that one of the out-of-state labs that Montana has contracted with to provide testing services, Quest Diagnostics, is backed up with about 15,000 tests from Montana sitting in their queue, plus the tests they run for other states as well. The state on Wednesday decided to end its contract with Quest due to the backlog and is currently looking for more labs to contract with to hopefully speed the process up.

Domek added that local nursing homes will still continue to perform weekly staff testing to keep in line with state mandates.

The next meeting of the Dawson County Board of Health will be on Aug. 7 at 11 a.m.

Reach Hunter Herbaugh at rrreporter@rangerreview. com.

COVID-19 Cases

Following are positive COVID-19 cases as they were announced by the Dawson County Health Department in the past week:

• Case 9 - female in her 70s who is not hospitalized and is isolating at home.

• Case 10 - A male in his 50s who was identified through surveillance testing and did not exhibit any symptoms.

• Case 11 - A male in his 70s was identified through surveillance testing and did not exhibit any symptoms.

• Case 12 - A female in her 40s who is not hospitalized and is isolating at home.