Two more of the Canyon Creek Memory Care residents have died from COVID-19. In all, seven residents of the Billings memory care facility have now died in a week.
Both of the people who died were women in their 90s, said RiverStone Health, Yellowstone County's public health department, in a press release Monday morning. One of the women died Sunday at a Yellowstone County hospital and the other woman died Sunday at Canyon Creek.
The death total has now surpassed the outbreak at the Marias Heritage Center in Toole County which killed six people after it began in March.
In Yellowstone County, which has the highest number of active COVID-19 cases in Montana, 11 people have now died from the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Yellowstone County added another 37 cases of COVID-19 Monday morning, according to updated numbers from the Montana Department of Health and Human Services.
The people who have tested positive in the latest round range in age from a boy younger than 10 to a man in his 80s.
Yellowstone County now has 339 of the 936 active cases in the state. The county has had 354 new cases through the first 13 days of July.
The recent Canyon Creek deaths were first announced Monday morning in a post on the Canyon Creek Memory Care Facebook page.
At least 50 Canyon Creek residents have tested positive for COVID-19, along with 36 staff members. Koelsch Communities, the company that owns Canyon Creek, has said that a resident was first symptomatic on June 30.
The senior care facility announced last Tuesday that there was an outbreak of COVID-19 among its residents and staff. The high number of staff members infected prompted the Billings Clinic and National Guard to step in last last week to help with with operations at the facility.
Despite the deadly week, a Monday morning Canyon Creek Facebook post said residents were upbeat.
"We are happy to report that residents are doing well and we are keeping spirits high — enjoying their favorite activities, singing their favorite songs, and eating delicious meals — with our team by their sides," the post says.
RiverStone Health announced Monday afternoon that a weekday free drive-through testing site will begin operations Tuesday morning. Testing will take place Monday through Friday in the parking lot of the Shrine Auditorium at 1125 Broadwater Avenue.
The first hour of testing at the site from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. will be for individuals prescribed a test by RiverStone health. From 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. tests will be offered to the general public on what RiverStone described as "a first come, first served basis."
"The number of tests done daily will be limited by staffing capacity," the RiverStone press release says.
Spokesperson Barbara Schneeman said that RiverStone will have the ability to have two people at the staffing site, compared to the 14 they were able to staff at MetraPark last Saturday for a mass testing event.
"We intend to provide an ongoing opportunity for testing for as long as there is a demand," Schneeman said. "Additionally, ongoing operations are contingent on testing supplies, staffing, etc."
Planning for RiverStone to open up the free testing site has been ongoing since June when the availability of testing supplies increased and Gov. Steve Bullock announced his plan for surveillance testing, according to Schneeman.
People are asked to remain in their vehicles. A RiverStone staff member will offer instructions to people on how to gently swab the inside of each nostril and place the swab in a vial for transportation to a lab for analysis.
Access to the Shrine Auditorium parking lot testing will be through the 11th Street West side of the property. Drivers will be directed through to the trailer parked near the back of the auditorium and after the testing is completed vehicles will exit onto Yellowstone Avenue on the north side of the Shrine property.
RiverStone plans on notifying people who tests positive and in addition to providing them with self-isolation instructions will also begin contact tracing to determine close contacts the person may have had.
People who are symptomatic at the time of their test will be asked to quarantine for 14 days or until test results are known.
As the county increases its public testing options, other private institutions in Billings are continuing testing to try and identify the presence of COVID-19. St. John's United started testing after a non-direct care staff member contracted COVID-19 on June 30th, according to a Saturday press release from St. John's.
St. John's United operates a variety of senior care campuses in Red Lodge, Laurel and Billings that provide services to more than 600 residents. The nonprofit also manages Sapphire Lutheran Homes in Hamilton, and in addition to residential senior care offers home care along with other services including adoption, birthparent counseling, mental health counseling, a workforce development program and childcare services.
At that point, testing of 320 residents and staff had turned up a positive case in an employee and "a non-nursing home elder," according to St. John's.
In an update provided to The Gazette Monday, a St. John's spokesperson said that in total testing has now uncovered COVID-19 in three non-direct care workers in separate units, a direct care worker and one non-resident elder.
"No individual with positive results had known contact with each other, thus we suspect each contracted this from community activity or non-staff contacts on campus," said Karen Miller, director of strategic advancement communications for St. John's United.
The non-profit specializing in senior care said it will continue with weekly testing until tests return zero positives for two weeks. A second round of testing began last Friday.
The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services has provided St. John's with testing equipment along with results "within an acceptable timeframe," Miller said by email. Staff have administered the tests.