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COVID-19 cases spike in Gallatin County, including MSU, Big Sky, West Yellowstone

Gallatin County health officials see 'consistent upward trend' in positive tests as summer tourism more prevalent
Posted at 6:11 PM, Jun 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-26 20:11:45-04

Gallatin County health officials tell us as of Friday, June 26, outbreaks of the virus are being detected in Big Sky -- even at Montana State University.

The Gallatin City-County Health Department (GCCHD) health officer confirms that upticks of cases in places like West Yellowstone, Big Sky and the rest of the Gallatin Valley, including on-campus at Montana State University, can be seen due to traveling visitors and other factors.

“This is serious and we need people to take it seriously,” says Matt Kelley, GCCHD health officer.

Kelley says with the latest confirmations of cases coming in, every precaution could make a difference.

“Our seven-day rolling average of cases is now up 50 percent of what it was two weeks ago,” Kelley says.

That includes in tourism-heavy areas of the county and MSU.

“We’re seeing cases come from many different parts of the county,” Kelley says. “We have cases in West Yellowstone. We have a pretty sizable outbreak in Big Sky. We’re working with Montana State University because we have five individuals at Montana State who have tested positive.”

Each case was caught with the help of contact tracing.

While the exact locations of each outbreak go unspoken, Kelley says his department is working closely from the sources they’ve found to track the spread.

“We work with MSU to make sure that those individuals are supported,” Kelley says. “I’m sure they are going to be doing some communication with their team, with students and staff over there to make sure they are aware that they have cases on campus.”

...Precautions, from staying home if you are sick to washing your hands, that Kelley says still hold.

“We need people to stay out of crowded settings,” Kelley says. “We need people, when they find themselves in those settings, to turn around and walk away.”

He also says while visitors to the area could be spreading the virus easily, the numbers mostly rest with long term visitors.

“What we tend to be seeing is cases of people who live and work here or at least have a part time residence here,” Kelley says.

And the numbers are also going up for other reasons: the 14-day quarantine is gone; Yellowstone National Park has reopened and businesses are opening their doors again.

For now, Kelley says the board of health is not thinking about rolling back guidelines.

“That’s not something that we are not contemplating in the immediate near term,” Kelley says.

While cases are up 30 percent compared to the beginning of June, nationwide, Kelley says Montana’s cases are still comparably low.

That does not mean our guard should be dropped

“We are getting case reports seven days a week and we are really working hard,” Kelley says. “We have a choice as a community that we take this seriously.”

In the last week, 38 cases were found in Gallatin County, with 10 cases being in Big Sky and two cases in West Yellowstone.