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Holiday travel, Omicron contribute to spike in viral illness in Big Sky

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By Gabrielle Gasser EBS STAFF

BIG SKY – An influx of holiday travelers and the Omicron variant of COVID-19 are contributing to a spike in viral illness in Big Sky, local medical professionals say.  

“Prior to the holiday rush in Big Sky, our community’s health had stabilized from the viral illness standpoint,” Dr. Maren Dunn, Big Sky Medical Center primary care provider, wrote in a statement to EBS. “Since the holiday rush, the number of flu and COVID illnesses have skyrocketed, especially in Big Sky.” 

As of EBS press time, Gallatin County was in a high transmission status for COVID-19 according to the Gallatin City-County Health Department, with 486 active cases of the virus. Based on this status, the Health Department recommends that everyone in Gallatin County should wear a mask in indoor, public settings, regardless of vaccination status though currently there is no mask mandate in place in Montana.

Montana is not outstanding in this regard. The U.S. on Dec. 28 broke its record for daily coronavirus cases when the seven-day average of cases reached 267,000, according to the New York Times, topping the previous record of 251,232 cases from Jan. 11.

While Dunn wrote that current data is not currently able to discern how many positive COVID-19 cases are the Omicron variant, she said that Influenza A and COVID-19 are the predominant viruses currently spreading through the Big Sky community.

There is a lot of overlap between COVID-19 symptoms and most other respiratory viruses, says Dr. Jason Moore, who holds a PhD in Epidemiology and is an emergency medicine physician assistant. Moore consults for numerous businesses, including EBS publisher Outlaw Partners, on developing customized COVID-19 protocols.

Moore said that there are a lot of people getting sick right now, all with very similar symptoms, who are then entering into a strained healthcare system to seek care.

“That’s more people coming in, in a system that’s already feeling it because of the burnout for the nurses and the providers and staff and hospital systems,” he said.

Moore says the best thing people can do right now is remember the basics of managing viral symptoms: avoid close contact with sick individuals, wash your hands frequently and stay hydrated.

For those who are sick, Moore recommends his trusty 4-5-6 rule: take 400 milligrams of ibuprofen and 500 milligrams of Tylenol every six hours for one to two days to manage symptoms.

Testing is the best way to know if you have COVID-19, according to Dunn, and should be done promptly when a close contact tests positive for COVID-19 or when any typical symptoms arise. 

Taylor Rose, director of operations and clinical services at BSMC wrote to EBS that outpatient COVID-19 testing is currently returning results in 24-48 hours. 

“Our daily analyzer capacity for testing exceeds demand at this time,” Rose wrote. “However staffing for collections, registration, and scheduling are our biggest limiting factors. Our staff is doing the best they can and we appreciate folks being kind and understanding when calling for information about COVID testing.”

Big Sky Relief is currently offering self-administered rapid COVID-19 tests for asymptomatic Big Sky residents and workers. Big Sky Relief announced Dec. 28 that it would temporarily double the weekly test supply from 500 to 1,000 rapid tests.

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