By Mira Brody EBS STAFF
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that one student and one staff member from LPHS tested positive for COVID-19, not two students as originally published.
BOZEMAN – Gallatin County continues its concerning trend of positive COVID-19 cases. As a whole, Montana sits third behind North and South Dakota in cases per 100,000 people in the country, a measurement used by health officials to measure transmission severity. As of Friday, Oct. 16, Gallatin County has 44 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 271 confirmed active cases and 10 current hospitalizations. Five people have died from COVID-19 complications within the county.
Big Sky has reported 16 positive cases in the last 10 days, two of which are connected to Lone Peak High School—one student and one staff member at the school. Both positive tests were confirmed by a letter released by Superintendent Dustin Shipman on Oct. 13.
“The staff member who tested positive has extremely limited access to students, staff and facility,” the letter said. “If any staff or students are at risk of exposure, the Gallatin County Health Department will be in contact with that person to determine a safe and appropriate course of action.”
There have been over 300 cases reported in Bozeman in the same period of time and county Health Officer, Matt Kelley, says cases are not concentrated in specific areas or workplaces, but are consistently widespread throughout the county.
The Gallatin City-County Health Department is meeting with public schools and Montana State University multiple times a week to ensure students who test positive are quarantined and cared for. MSU test sites are reported to be busy, while there are 12 schools in the county with active cases.
“We’re pleased with the partnership we have,” Kelley said at an Oct. 16 press conference. “Those folks are working side-by-side with contact tracers employed by the county.”
Although testing capacity and turnaround in the county is meeting needs, unfortunately, due to the volume of positive test results, contract tracers are unable to contain the virus with their efforts. County contact tracers are working seven days a week, Kelley says, contacting those who need to quarantine and checking in on symptomatic individuals. He said about in one in every 10-20 cases, a person is resistant to health guidance.
“Contact tracing is the most effective in the beginning of an outbreak when you can really get in there and reduce transmission,” Kelley said. “It doesn’t take too many people who are being non-compliant to take up a lot of time and to make a difference in the spread … it’s enough that it can be frustrating sometimes.”
As of today, critical care bed capacity in Gallatin County, which includes Bozeman Deaconess Hospital and Bozeman Health Big Sky Medical Center, hovers at 65 percent capacity, a number that can fluctuate hourly as patients are moved to different departments or released. With average weekly positive case numbers per 100,000 now surpassing 10 percent and cold and flu season upon us, hospitals are poised, but not yet concerned.
“Bozeman Health says they feel petty decent about where they are in terms of their capacity,” Kelley said, noting that the hospital has 20 critical care beds. “… But when we’re seeing the numbers of people who are being admitted to Billings and other hospitals, that removes that flexibility.”
Kelley says the best assistance individuals can provide healthcare workers and contact tracers is through community-wide efforts, such as wearing face coverings, staying on top of personal health by eating well and getting enough sleep and washing your hands.