BILLINGS, Mont. -- As we continue to monitor the number of COVID-19 cases in the state, one term to be familiar with is R Naught value. This measurement tells us how fast the virus is spreading.
Montana has some of the lowest COVID-19 numbers in the country, but one of the highest R Naught values out of all 50 states. We turned to Yellowstone County Health Officer John Felton find out why this is the case.
Felton defines R Naught value as the number of people who are infected by an infected person. If the value is less than one, then the prevalence of the disease is reducing, and the higher the number goes, the more rapidly the pandemic spreads. Felton provides us with this example.
"Joe Smith is found to be positive. We do contact tracing on Joe Smith, and identify 10 potential contacts. Two of those people become ill and become positive. Then in that case the R Naught value is 2," he says.
As of 5:00pm on 6/24/2020, Montana's R Naught value is 1.46. You can monitor that value over time on this website: https://rt.live/.
Felton says because many of the cases in Montana are linked, whether it be household or work contacts, that drives the R Naught value up.
He says when you have community spread, where you can't identify where the case originated from, then the R Naught value goes down. With community spread, Felton says you wind up identifying more COVID-19 cases.
Felton says the way we slow down that rate is by keeping our distance from one another, washing our hands, wearing masks, and staying home when you're sick.