Statement by Mayor Bill Cole regarding COVID-19

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(delivered at November 16, 2020, meeting of Billings City Council}

Tomorrow, November 17, marks the 7-month anniversary of the announcement of the first death from COVID-19 in Yellowstone County. In just over 200 days we lost 105 of our fellow citizens. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that those 105 are individuals, not just numbers. Each one leaves behind grieving family members and friends, many of whom were never able to say good­bye to their loved-ones in their final days. None of the deceased will celebrate another Thanksgiving on this side of the heavenly shore.

This past Sunday, five new deaths were reported in Yellowstone County, tying a previous grim record for the most deaths recorded on a single day. Since the beginning of September, we have averaged almost one death every day. In fact, all but four of our 105 deaths occurred in just the last three and a half months, reflecting the surge in cases that began at the end of the summer. A few hours ago it was reported that we added 241 new cases yesterday. Over the last 7 days we have averaged, by my calculation, about 165 new cases every day in our county and almost 1100 new cases each day in Montana, a 33% increase over the previous two-week period. Nationally, we added one million cases last week.

Given the huge increase in COVID numbers, our percentage of deaths would have been much higher if the death rate were as bad as we saw in the spring and summer, but in recent months dedicated healthcare workers have made significant advances in treating the disease. The latest announcements concerning the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are also very promising, but it will be many months before most Americans are vaccinated. In the meantime, our local healthcare system is on the brink of being overwhelmed, and we continue to learn more about the serious long-term health consequences of COVID-19.

The bottom line is that our situation in Yellowstone County has never been as dire as it is today. Three weeks ago, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator, told me and other local officials that she was afraid that if 330 million Americans gather in groups of 10 on Thanksgiving Day the result may be 33 million super-spreader events. And our infection rates today are significantly higher than when Dr. Birx made her comments.

Let’s work together so Dr. Birx’s prediction does not come to fruition, especially in Yellowstone County. We can drive down the numbers before Thanksgiving by cancelling or at least delaying social functions as much as possible, keeping 6 feet of distance from everyone not in our family group, washing our hands, not going out if we have even the smallest inkling that we might be sick, and wearing that mask religiously.

When the numbers go down we will truly have reason to give thanks.

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