Ravalli County Public Health has reported an increase of 53 new COVID-19 cases in the valley in their Wednesday report. The department is now releasing new daily reports before noon, closer to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services mid-morning report. Public Health Director Tiffany Webber said previous late afternoon reports were soon outdated by lab reports that were received after 5 p.m.

There are now 342 active COVID-19 cases in Ravalli County. But Webber said there is a time delay from when people get tested and the results come back from the lab. In fact, as of noon Wednesday, there were 454 lab tests still waiting for review. As a result, she cautioned that the active case count obviously does not reflect all the people infected with the coronavirus. Ravalli County health officials will conduct interviews with those who have been diagnosed with the illness, and contact tracing will continue from there.

The new daily numbers are now being posted on the Ravalli County Sheriff's Office cellphone app, at the Ravalli County Public Health Facebook page and on the Ravalli County Office of Emergency Management page.

Webber thanked all the school nurses and school staff in the valley who've worked to try to provide a safe school environment, with additional compassion and support to many families.

Meanwhile, the public is reminded of the new statewide mask restrictions, requiring everyone to wear facemasks in public buildings. There is a lower 25-person limit for public gathering and events where social distancing is not possible or observed. This does not apply to schools or churches.

If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, you should isolate yourself at home, away from others, notify any close contacts that might have been exposed, follow "Close Contact" instructions at the Ravalli County COVID-19 webpage. She also thanked everyone for their patience.