Big Horn County reports first COVID-19 death

Luella N. Brien
Friday, June 5, 2020
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Photo by Nacoma Jefferson
Medical personnel talk with a National Guard soldier during a sentinel surveillance testing event in Crow Agency last week. 

Health officials in Big Horn County today confirmed the first death due to COVID-19 the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The patient, a man in his 60s, had previously been diagnosed with the virus and was being monitored daily by public health nurses, Big Horn County Public Information Officer Rhonda Johnson said in a press release.

“The Big Horn County COVID-19 Response Unified Coalition offers their deepest condolences for his family, friends, and the entire Big Horn County community in our grief,” Johnson said. “All of the preventive measures recommended by public health take on a new importance with this death.”

On Wednesday, Big Horn County health officials confirmed five news cases, two men in their 50s and one woman and two men in their 70s, bringing the county’s total 28 active cases and confirmed cases to 31.

“It is important to know that this virus affects people differently, and extreme symptoms can present quickly and without warning,” Johnson said.

Last week, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock visited a free, drive-up COVID-19 testing site in Crow Agency and was tested.

Both Bullock and Crow Tribe Chairman Alvin “A.J.” Not Afraid discussed access to more tests as priorities for the area; Not Afraid added the tribe has hired an epidemiologist who will join a newly formed commission that will coordinate CARES funding this month.

Not Afraid said fighting the stigma of contracting the virus and providing food and supplies to families affected by the illness are top priorities for the immediate future.

As of May 31, 2,320 people have been tested countywide, by one of four different health care facilities in Hardin and on the Crow Indian Reservation, 579 test results have returned negative, according to the Big Horn County Health Department. There are 1,709 tests pending.

The number jumped substantially from 249 tests reported countywide on May 15 due to sentinel surveillance testing that took place from May 18 through May 28 throughout the county provided by Montana National Guard from Billings, Bureau of Indian Affairs Law Enforcement, Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office, National Park Service, Crow Tribe of Indians, City of Hardin, Big Horn County health care professionals from Crow/Northern Cheyenne Indian Health Service Hospital, Big Horn Hospital, IHS Public Health Nursing, Big Horn County Public Health, SCL Health-Hardin Clinic, Bighorn Valley Health Center and the Big Horn County Ambulance Service, as well as the Big Horn County COVID-19 Response Unified Coalition.

On May 28, 1,028 people were tested at the open surveillance testing site at Hardin High School in Hardin, while 597 people were tested May 27 in Crow Agency, health official said.

Results from the events have been reported back this week and will continue to be reported early next week.

The first diagnosis reported by Big Horn County health officials was April 9.

County health officials reported one patient is hospitalized and 26 patients are quarantined at home. Eight previously diagnosed patients have recovered, officials added.