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Gallatin City-County Health Department dealing with ‘uncontrolled transmission’ of COVID-19

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By Mira Brody EBS STAFF

BOZEMAN – Hospital staff, health department workers, teachers—everyone is feeling the strain of Gallatin County’s increasing average of 153 new cases of COVID-19 per day.

On Nov. 13, the Health Department recorded 110 new cases of COVID-19 for a total of 890 active cases within the county currently. There are 20 individuals currently hospitalized due to COVID-19 symptoms and 13 people have died as a result of the virus. 

Most assisted living facilities have active cases and some even have outbreaks. With active cases at 23 campuses across the county, schools are experiencing staffing shortages as teachers and students are asked to quarantine. The Health Department is struggling to remain on pace in  entering the new case data necessary to track the virus, while some tests are taking up to seven days to yield results.

“Make no mistake, we are continuing to do everything we can to reach everyone we can but it’s stretched past our capacity,” said Gallatin City-County Health Department Health Officer Matt Kelley at a Nov. 13 press conference

Bozeman Deaconess Hospital is allowing, what they call “asymptomatic close contacts” to come to work—these are hospital staff who have not tested positive for the virus, but may have had close contacts with COVID-19. Kelley noted that many hospitals in North Dakota are actively asking those who are COVID-19 positive to come back to work and care for patients due to vast staffing shortages. As of this morning, Bozeman Health’s critical care beds are at 90 percent capacity with two beds remaining—a percentage that fluctuates throughout the day.

“As a community we have a choice, I think,” Kelley said. “The first choice is to come together, to think of those around us, stay home when we’re sick, we stay out of large group gatherings, and we stay out of places like bars and parties. If we can do that, we have a chance to limit disease spread and continue to operate schools, keep seniors safe where they are now in nursing homes and assisted living, and to support our healthcare providers who are out there working to serve all of us.”

Kelley says this effort relies not only on individuals, but also help from bars and restaurants to follow health guidelines, including the new restrictions enacted on Nov. 6, law enforcement to enforce these restrictions and support and leadership from elected officials. Kelley says although there is a promising vaccine on the horizon, there are many months ahead before it will become available widespread.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, nearly 80 percent of those who have needed to quarantine due to a positive case, or to exposure to a close contact, were people under the age of 30. Most cases the Health Department is seeing now are in the age group between 20-29, while hospitalizations and deaths are occurring mostly in the 80-90 age bracket. Despite the gap, Kelley says it’s important to understand that there is a feasible connection between the two—that the actions of those out in the community affect those in nursing homes and assisted living facilities as well as the healthcare workers caring for them.

“That’s why were focusing on limiting those sorts of interactions,” Kelley said of bar and restaurant restrictions. “What happens at those parties and what happens at those bars matters to what happens in nursing homes, assisted livings and hospitals and schools.”

Kelley once more called on the community to help alleviate the strain experienced by hospital staff, contact tracers and those currently battling the disease.

“When it gets this big we really need help from the community,” he said. “That’s what it’s going to take right now.”

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