The state reported 127 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, again setting a record high for daily increase in cases.
Just this month, Montana set records for daily coronavirus case growth on July 2, 7 and 9, in addition to Friday.
The spike in cases comes in addition to two more deaths tied to the Canyon Creek Memory Care center in Billings, a man in his 90s and a man in his 80s, who both died Thursday.
That makes five deaths associated with the facility since Monday. Earlier this week, the public health agency in Yellowstone County announced that more than 50 residents and more than a dozen employees at Canyon Creek Memory Care had tested positive for the virus.
It's unclear what brought the virus to the facility, which is home to people with Alzheimer’s, dementia or other types of memory loss. The facility had not started allowing visitors under a relaxed rule from Gov. Steve Bullock, nor was it participating in a surveillance testing plan that aims to test every facility statewide. Bullock on Wednesday made taking part in that type of testing a condition of offering visitation.
The state has seen exponential case growth since moving into a second phase of reopening in June. A 14-day travel quarantine for those coming into the state also expired June 1. That followed a period of relatively low case growth during a stay-at-home order and the first part of reopening, when bars and restaurants could operate at half capacity.
Many of the new cases recently have been tied to gatherings beyond what current guidelines recommend, such as weddings. Others are related to group settings such as workplaces. There's also an outbreak on the Crow Reservation in southeastern Montana.
Also Friday, the Lincoln County Public Health Department said it's investigating a possible cluster of cases in Libby. The county has five active cases and reported the state's first death from the virus in March. Libby is also home to a high number of people with asbestos-related lung diseases from the former vermiculite mine there.
Yellowstone County reported 54 new cases Thursday, followed by 39 new cases in Gallatin County, according to the state. Fourteen other counties also reported new cases Friday.
While a handful of local governments around the state have put requirements into place about wearing masks when in public and in situations where social distancing is not possible, Bullock has not issued a statewide mandate.
On Friday the Montana Hospital Association and the state Department of Commerce said they would ship 45,000 free cloth face coverings to 25 communities around the state. The coverings will be distributed at Convention and Visitor Bureau and tourism region visitor centers.
In a press release, association president and chief executive Rich Rasmussen said wearing face coverings, which are recommended by the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control as a way to slow the spread of the virus, is important to keeping businesses open and the health care system not over-stressed.
"Until we have a vaccine, wearing a mask is one of the most simple and effective things we can do to keep the virus from shutting down our state. It also sets the tone with neighbors and visitors alike: Montanans wear masks and you should, too," Rasmussen said.
The Commerce department is promoting a "responsible visitor campaign."
“We’re asking visitors to our spectacular state to take the same safety precautions that Montanans are encouraged to follow,” director Tara Rice said in a press release. “Masking up is one simple way all of us can slow the spread of COVID-19 and still enjoy Montana’s authentic experiences.”
Masks will be available at visitor centers in Anaconda, Belgrade, Billings, Boulder, Butte, Cooke City, Deer Lodge, Dillon, Gardiner, Glasgow, Great Falls, Havre, Helena, Kalispell, Livingston, Missoula, Philipsburg, Polson, Red Lodge, Sidney, Virginia City, West Yellowstone, Whitefish and Wolf Point.