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Gallatin County seeing ‘widespread transmission’ of COVID-19

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Highest cases, hospitalizations since pandemic began

By Mira Brody EBS STAFF

BOZEMAN – At an Oct. 2 press conference, the Gallatin City County Health Department addressed record numbers of COVID-19 cases in the county. Health Officer Matt Kelley said more cases were reported yesterday than at any time during the pandemic.

On Friday, Oct. 2, Gallatin County reported 68 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 for a cumulative total of 1,577. There are 198 confirmed active cases and eight current hospitalizations—the most the county has seen since the pandemic began in March. A total of 1,375 people have recovered in Gallatin County. Four people have died from COVID-19 complications.

The World Health Organization recommends a test positivity rate below 5 percent as criteria for reopening businesses. Anything closer to 10 percent is cause for concern. The seven-day rolling average for Gallatin County was 8.9 percent on Sept. 30, a 27 percent increase from the 7.0 percent recorded a week earlier.

“We’re seeing more cases and we’re seeing them from all over the county, from West Yellowstone to Big Sky, to Bozeman and Belgrade,” Kelley said. “We’re seeing widespread transmission of the disease maybe to a greater extent than at any point in the pandemic.”

The county currently has 11 contact tracers tasked with identifying at-risk contacts to positive cases. A concerning pattern they are noticing, Kelley said, is a spike in cases concentrated in the 19-29 age group, many of whom have multiple close contacts particularly from parties and large gatherings.

“It’s not all MSU,” Kelley said. “The number of active cases we have at MSU are actually down somewhat.”

Cases are not absent from local schools however, and the health department has been working with school staff to identify and quarantine those with positive cases. Eight schools in Bozeman and Belgrade have active COVID-19 cases. Belgrade High School has the highest at five, Gallatin High School has three and Bozeman High School has two. In addition, six assisted living facilities in the county are experiencing outbreaks.

“This is a stressful situation for them and their staff,” Kelley said, “but I really want to call out the staff at Bozeman and Belgrade High Schools. They’ve done a superb job with working with us.”

Kelley noted that quarantining, no matter how mild one’s symptoms are, is the tried-and-true method to mitigating the spread of COVID-19. The county provides resources to those in quarantine to ensure they can acquire necessary groceries, medications and unemployment assistance as needed.

“I really want to put a call out to everyone out there: when you’re a close contact, one civic duty you can do is stay home and really help us limit the spread of this disease,” Kelley said.

This morning a small group of individuals gathered outside of the health department building to protest the use of masks. Kelley said he was disappointed that the concept of masks, meant to protect others, is being used to cause division and noted that most people in the community have been supportive of the health department’s efforts.

“We really need people to wear those face coverings to limit that spread,” Kelley said. “I really regard masking as sign of respect and courtesy to people around us.”

As for regaining control of case numbers, Kelley said, it really comes down to collective community effort and support from elected officials “of all stripes.”

“It’s important that we attack this with unity and understanding,” he said.

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