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County health officials warn peak yet to come



Doctors at Big Sky Medical Center practice COVID-19 procedures on a mannequin. PHOTO COURTESY OF BSMC

By Mira Brody EBS Staff

BOZEMAN – At an April 10 press conference Matt Kelley, Health Officer for Gallatin City-County Health Department, and Bozeman Deaconess Health’s President and CEO John Hill updated the public on the status of COVID-19 in Gallatin County.

Now, four weeks from the first confirmed case in the county, Bozeman Hospital has completed 1,335 tests, resulting in 134 positive cases in Gallatin County. Of those, 106 individuals have recovered and are no longer a risk to the community, Kelley and Hill reported.

Hill warned that the number of COVID-19 cases in the Bozeman Health service area, including Gallatin, Madison and Park counties, will peak the week of April 27. During this week, Hill expects to see as many as 100 COVID-19-positive patients admitted to Bozeman Hospital; 83 of them will be inpatient admissions, he estimated, and the remaining 17 will be ICU admissions in Bozeman or Big Sky.

By utilizing space in the surgical department and others throughout the hospital, Bozeman Health has expanded its inpatient capacity to 128 beds. Bozeman currently has 40 ventilators and anesthesia machines, with an additional 10 ventilators expected to arrive in the coming weeks. Patients at Big Sky Medical Center requiring intensive care will be transferred to Bozeman Hospital as needed.

Through traditional, nontraditional and sometimes creative methods, Hill says the hospital has been working to get the PPE gear vetted and approved as businesses such as Bridger Aerospace, Simms Fishing Products, Mystery Ranch and WestPaw come together to produce masks and gowns for hospital staff.

“While we have ordered and are awaiting delivery of necessary lab equipment to conduct in-house COVID-19 testing at Deaconess Hospital, Big Sky Medical Center and Belgrade Clinic, Montana State University has graciously allowed the temporary use of its Quantitative PCR Analyzer to the Deaconess Health Lab to attempt on-site COVID-19 testing,” Hill said.

The PCR machine allows healthcare professionals at Deaconess to amplify the fingerprint of the virus when reviewing patient samples, and the process is expected to pass FDA approval in the coming days as an acceptable method of testing patients for the COVID-19 coronavirus. Testing will first prioritize hospital staff and then inpatients that meet testing guidelines.

“We have also seen our community discover new ways to celebrate their humanity,” said Kelley, “whether that is the school principal dancing on desks or the governor of our state classifying the Easter bunny as essential personnel.”

Kelley noting that the shared response of the community has been unifying and inspiring, from howling during the 8 p.m. hospital shift change to those making homemade masks for the community. He’s urging Gallatin County to not become complacent and to continue practicing social distancing, washing their hands, staying home whenever possible and wearing non-medical masks in public.

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