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Big Sky Town Hall panelists talk agility, vigilance

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BIG SKY – In the 10th installment of Big Sky Virtual Town Hall, panelists spoke of the statewide spike in COVID-19 cases, masks and the importance of vigilance and agility in uncertain times.

Mike Cooney, Lt. Gov. of Montana, announced assuredly that he had a mask ready in his pocket. He spoke to the importance of Montanans realizing that the virus is still here and serious. Cooney has been meeting with Montana superintendents, school nurses, educators and members of various school districts to discuss a safe approach to reopening education this fall. He noted that every school district is going to have their own unique challenges.

“Our goal is always to get to Phase 3 as soon as possible, but we’re going to do it the right way,” said Cooney. “It’s going to have to be up to us.”

Matt Kelley, Health Officer for the Gallatin City-County Health Department explained the two types of testing currently available, the effectiveness of masks and gloves and the most concerning aspect of COVID-19 so far—how differently it affects people. He also spoke of a mask ordinance, something many other counties around the country have implemented, and one that the Gallatin County Health Board is considering.

“Unfortunately they’ve become this polarizing partisan political issue, regrettably,” Kelley said. “While they could be a part of the puzzle, they’re not a panacea. Wearing a mask doesn’t give you a force field that protects you from COVID.”

Kelley said while most cases back in March and April were people in their 40s and 50s, now they are seeing a spike in cases of people in the 20s, and with a lot more contacts, which makes the job of the health department—to track all of those known contacts down—much more challenging. He explained that the cases in Big Sky are not in one single setting, but multiple: healthcare, construction, residents and visitors, bars and restaurants.

Right now, in Gallatin County, there are two types of testing available: rapid testing for those who are symptomatic or have been in contact with a positive case, and surveillance testing, which took place in Big Sky just last week, when 694 tests were conducted, according to Lauren Brendle, spokesperson for Bozeman Health Big Sky Medical Center. The turnaround time for surveillance testing is longer—somewhere between four and 10 days, and data will be used to “…determine prevalence of COVID-19 in the Big Sky community, and identify asymptomatic individuals confirmed positive for COVID-19,” Brendel wrote in a July 6 email.

David Quammen, the renowned science writer and journalist who predicted the arrival of an illness similar to COVID-19 in his 2012 book “Spillover,” called it the “nightmare virus.” He said COVID-19 is particularly “nefarious” because some patients have mild symptoms, some get very sick, some die after many months, and many show no symptoms at all. He says because of this, it will survive in our society for a long time.

Quammen said he is taking quarantine seriously. He and his wife have been isolated since March, and wear masks on the rare occasion that they leave the house. They stay in touch with loved ones, even those in town, through Skype or from six-foot distances.

“I respect these dangerous viruses,” Quammen said. “I spent five years studying these crazy lethal viruses with scientists who do research them. I’m worried for humanity. I’m worried for the people in the U.S. who are being disproportionately hit by this. I think that is crazy and unacceptable.”

Matt Kidd, Managing Director of CrossHarbor Capital Partners, finished out the 10th Town Hall series, talking about the Fourth of July fireworks show and development in Big Sky, including the purchase of Buck’s T-4 Lodge, which reopened this past weekend. He said while CrossHarbor subsidiary Lone Mountain Land Company has not encouraged visitation, people recognize that Big Sky is a desirable place to be and a great place to enjoy while social distancing.

Kidd said CrossHarbor has been busy as they make headway on the Powder Light subdivision, a project that will provide 340 beds for Big Sky’s workforce. He also touched on the mandatory requirement of masks at the Yellowstone Club, Spanish Peaks, Moonlight and CrossHarbor job sites.

“People should look at wearing a mask not as a political statement, but as the simplest act of kindness that one can share with other human beings,” Kidd said.

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