HELENA, Mont. (AP) — An emergency room nurse urged Montana residents to take politics out of the fight against the coronavirus Tuesday, as the number of cases in the state reached 24,000, the death toll surpassed 250 and hospitals are caring for 360 patients.
Health care workers come from a variety of political, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds, Charlotte Skinner said.
“But we've always found a common ground to stand on. And that common ground is called science, evidence-based practice and a patient-first mentality," she said.
“I have never and I will never run into the room of a patient in distress and ask them how they vote,” said Skinner, a registered nurse at St. Peter's Health in Helena. “People in health care don't discriminate and neither does this virus.”
“I'm asking you to stop segregating yourselves into maskers and anti-maskers and to stand with us on the common ground of science and evidence, which is clearly telling us that masking works,” Skinner said.
Montana reported 706 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and a total of 252 deaths. Of the 360 people who are hospitalized, 64 are in intensive care and 39 are on ventilators, the state health department said.
Montana has the fifth-highest rate of newly confirmed infections per capita, though the rate of deaths is among the lowest in the U.S., according to data Tuesday from Johns Hopkins.
Montana hospitals are reaching a breaking point, Skinner said. But the pressure can be relieved if a majority of residents wear masks consistently and diligently, she said.
“We are on the brink of seeing a surge capacity like we have never seen before,” Skinner warned. “And make no mistake, this will affect our ability to provide the best possible care.”
Gov. Steve Bullock also urged residents to follow guidelines such as wearing masks, washing hands and physical distancing to reduce the strain on the state's healthcare workers.
“If all of us at times feel fatigue from this virus, imagine what an emergency room nurse feels, or other front line health care workers,” Bullock said.
In other news related to the coronavirus pandemic:
— Montana's unemployment rate fell to 5.3% in September, down from 5.6% in August. The unemployment rate was 3.5% before the pandemic began and rose to as high as 11.9% in April. Montana's Department of Labor has paid over $1 billion in unemployment benefits to more than 100,000 Montanans since the beginning of the pandemic, Bullock said Tuesday.
— Montana has submitted a preliminary plan to distribute a coronavirus vaccine when one becomes available, with priority given to front line health care workers, the elderly, Native Americans and those with underlying medical conditions, Bullock said.