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Big Sky surveillance testing program takes off

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Each week, 450 tests are available for asymptomatic Big Sky residents. PHOTO BY JOE O’CONNOR

By Gabrielle Gasser EBS STAFF

BIG SKY – The Big Sky surveillance testing program tested 600 residents during its first week of operation and yielding three positive cases. 

Moving forward, there will be 450 tests a week available for Big Sky residents on a first-come-first-served basis. Self-administered tests are available at the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce/Visit Big Sky Town Center Office on either Mondays from 12-7 p.m. or Tuesdays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Test kits may be dropped off at the same location during the hours listed above or from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday.

The $4.5 million surveillance testing program is made possible through the efforts of Big Sky Relief partners including the Big Sky philanthropic community, and Big Sky Resort Area District, as well as community employers, and Visit Big Sky.

The first week the program hit a slight roadblock when a piece of communication equipment in the mobile lab failed and a replacement part had to be shipped in. This hiccup accounts for the longer turnaround times the first week as all the samples gathered had to be shipped out to California.

In the future, turnaround times should be much shorter. According to Daniel Bierschwale, executive director of the Big Sky Resort Area District, a recent lab report indicated the average turnaround time for results is 16 hours.

The testing program is intended to test asymptomatic individuals frequently through the winter in an effort to keep the Big Sky community open and safe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 50 percent of COVID-19 transmission is through people who are not experiencing symptoms.

The program is not meant for symptomatic individuals. Symptomatic individuals are encouraged to call the Bozeman Health COVID hotline and go to the Big Sky Medical Center to get tested.

“Surveillance testing is the systematic testing of a community to identify asymptomatic individuals, isolate and quarantine positive contacts, and then contact trace those positive individuals,” Bierschwale said. “It’s about frequency of testing and ensuring that as many people as possible are participating gives us a good understanding of what the spread is.”

“Based upon what we heard from the community, we added an overnight 24/7 drop off, which is in the chamber foyer,” Bierschwale said. “It’s a secure drop off that we can pick up on a daily basis so if someone wants to drop it off there, they’re able to do so very easily at their convenience.”

Tests are picked up from the Chamber/VBS office at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. and taken over to the mobile lab parked at the Big Sky County Water and Sewer District. 

It is important that residents do not go to the mobile lab themselves. The pick-up and drop-off location are in the Chamber/VBS office and any updates to location and hours will be posted on the Big Sky Relief website.

If there are any special circumstances that prevent residents from picking up a test kit during the allotted times, they may call the BSRAD office and ask for Bierschwale who will be happy to help.

While picking up a test each week, make sure to also pick up any personal protective equipment you may be lacking. There are still 120,000 free masks available in the VBS office along with hand sanitizer.

Visit bigskyrelief.org for the most up-to-date information on surveillance testing in Big Sky.

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