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As COVID-19 cases rise, hospitals seeing limits pushed

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Bozeman Health critical care beds at 60 percent capacity

By Mira Brody EBS STAFF

BOZEMAN – Gallatin County today reported 61 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 after a brief stabilization of 46 cases each of the previous three days. The county currently has 244 confirmed active cases and nine current hospitalizations.

Record positive case numbers across the state prompted Montana health officials to announce yesterday that they will begin releasing hospital capacity numbers to the public, including the total number of hospital beds and ventilators in the state along with capacities for Intensive Care Units.

As of today, critical care beds at Gallatin County’s Bozeman Deaconess Hospital and Big Sky Medical Center combined sit at 60 percent of capacity. Non-critical care beds are at 53 percent capacity, a number that Gallatin City-County Health Department Health Officer Matt Kelley said fluctuates day to day based on admits and discharges.

“This is not where we wanted to be heading into cold and flu season,” Kelley said. “It sets us up for some potential problems.”

He says Billings Hospital is currently “pushing their limit” in terms of capacity, a concerning trend since neighboring hospitals regularly rely on one another to offload as needed. If capacity rates continue to rise in either county, it may create an unsustainable number of filled beds. 

Kelley also noted that Billings, the county seat for Yellowstone County, is usually a bit ahead of Gallatin County regarding their COVID-19 statistics, and therefore may be an eerie glimpse into our future. 

“That may be the single most important thing to keep an eye on when we look at how we deal with future restrictions,” said Kelley of hospital capacity numbers. Yellowstone and Flathead counties are seeing high case numbers and are considering additional restrictions to help control spread.

Luckily, Gallatin’s testing capacity is still able to meet demand, which is crucial, Kelley says, for being able to determine if someone has the flu or cold or is COVID-19 positive.

While testing capacity is not yet at risk, Gallatin County contact tracers seeing their share of difficulties. The case load on contact tracers has directly affected their ability to reduce disease transmission in the community, and some are having difficulty reaching people and keeping them in quarantine.

“We cannot investigate cases in the same way we can when they get up to 50 cases or so,” Kelley said. “When you have low cases, you can attack them like you attack the burning embers of a forest fire … Right now … it’s burning.”

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