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Health officials urge vaccinations amidst “substantial” transmission

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Some businesses, like the Bozeman Co-op downtown, have placed new signs on their doors, urging patrons to wear masks. PHOTO BY MIRA BRODY

COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations highest in months

By Mira Brody EBS STAFF

BOZEMAN – The Gallatin City-County Health Department and Bozeman Health are concerned about the rising number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Gallatin County. With 79 active COVID-19 cases in Gallatin County and seven people hospitalized with the virus, it is the largest spike in three months. With only 55 percent of the county currently vaccinated, health officials are concerned about the more transmissible Delta variant and the risk of further mutations.

“We’ve had Delta variant here in our community,” said Gallatin County Health Officer Lori Christenson on a July 30 press call. “We should anticipate Delta variant in our community—it’s in the state, it’s in the nation, and it’s here … COVID-19 Delta variant is currently accounting for about 80 percent of all COVID cases in the United States and is significantly more infectious.”

Kallie Kujawa, Bozeman Health COVID-19 incident command lead, says the hospital has just declared they are in an “incident” again and are in the process of stepping up their incident command system as hospitalization rise to concerning levels.

“Within the hospitalizations that we’re seeing, the majority, in fact I think at this point in time all of them that have been hospitalized for coronavirus, are unvaccinated,” Kujawa said on the call. ‘We are focused on increasing our partnership with the Gallatin County Health Department, Community Health Partners, MSU and the other local community efforts to increase vaccine awareness.”

Dr. Kerrie Emerick, a pathologist with Bozeman Health, says the hospital is sending tests to the state lab to determine specific variants. Studying variants helps local health officials better understand how the virus is mutating as it continues to spread throughout the community.

Because children ages 2 through 11 are not eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine at this time, the health department is urging them to continue wearing masks, and for other members of the community—vaccinated or unvaccinated—to do so as well to protect these young children and others who may not be able to receive the vaccine for medical reasons.

“Vaccinations continue to be the most effective strategy to prevent infection and severe disease,” said Christenson. “So those who chose to get vaccinated, kudos for doing your part, those who have not yet been vaccinated I would encourage you to get vaccinated.”

On July 27, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced their updated guidance for fully vaccinated individuals, adding a recommendation for fully vaccinated people to wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas with “substantial or high transmission.” This recommendation continues to be in place for unvaccinated people as well. 

This new guidance categorizes areas of substantial or high transmission based on cases per 100,000 in the last seven days. According to CDC criteria, Gallatin County is considered to currently have “substantial” transmission.

Yellowstone, Glacier and Grand Teton national parks all now require masks be worn indoors, including inside public transportation, by both vaccinated and unvaccinated people. 

In preparation for returning students at Montana State University this fall, Tracy Ellig, vice president of university communications at MSU, says the school is implementing a vaccine incentive program to encourage students to get vaccinated before returning, as well as to get them to utilize the vaccination clinics readily available on campus. Students can show evidence of vaccination for a chance to win big-ticket items such as ski passes and Yeti coolers.

Those who believe they may have been exposed to COVID-19 or who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms can get tested at any Bozeman Health campus, including Bozeman Deaconess Hospital, the urgent care center on Main Street in Bozeman, the Belgrade clinic or Big Sky Medical Center. 

Results are currently same-day turnaround. You can also call the health department’s COVID-19 call center to request a test or if you have any questions at (406) 548-0123.

Vaccination clinics are available throughout the county. They are free for anyone both insured and uninsured, and staff are available to sit down and discuss any questions or concerns a patient may have before they decide to get vaccinated. To find a vaccination clinic near you, visit healthygallatin.org.

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