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'We're not out of the woods yet:' Gallatin City-County Health Officer responds to closing time extension

Posted at 6:45 PM, Feb 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-05 20:45:20-05

BOZEMAN — Gallatin County bars can stay open later until 2 a.m. yet the Gallatin City-County Health Department is watching the numbers of COVID cases closely.

Health officer Matt Kelley says the health department, moving forward now until February 25 and beyond, will keep their eyes open.

As for Kelley, the vaccine count by Friday, Feb. 5 is at least a sign of optimism.

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“We’re at a better place but we’re not out of the woods yet,” Kelley says.

A thick woods - with lots of numbers.

Kelley broke them down and showed how the numbers were mostly going down.

The seven-day rolling average of infections per 100,000 people dropped from around 36 to about 30.

And while variants add another layer of concern, positive testing rides steady at around five percent.

“We’ve come from a pretty big high,” Kelley says. “It’s possible that the worst days are ahead of us in this pandemic. It’s possible, also, that they’re not. This is still a serious virus. We’re still seeing places in Europe where the spread is rapid where it is forcing pretty widespread, significant lock-downs.”

A thought that Kelley says comes with concern with the new 2 a.m. closing time, with the Super Bowl and St. Patrick’s Day within the 90-day bubble.

“There is a risk to allow bars to stay open until 2 am. There’s no doubt about it,” Kelley says. “But the board looked at our local epidemiology and I looked at it with them and they listened to bar owners who voiced a willingness to work with us. The board, throughout this, refused to be bullied, and they just followed the data and the science.”

Kallie Kujawa with Bozeman Health had more good news, from their first day of community injections this week, to bed occupancy.

“We have 65 percent of our critical care beds occupied with 82 percent of our non-critical care beds occupied,” Kujawa says. “It’s been really rewarding to watch this process go so smoothly, so calmly, and to have a chance to smile with our patients as they’ve expressed their joy at being able to get the vaccine.”

Kujawa also adds that the hospital is at a new point of testing speed.

“Currently, we’re able to provide same-day test results for those who have their swab done before 1:30 on weekdays,” Kujawa says.

Kelley adds this: while bar closing time is the most talked about part of the rule, it isn’t the only part.

Businesses still are required to follow capacity guidelines and the board will keep track of compliance and case spread.

“Governor Gianforte’s decision to essentially rescind the statewide rule really puts local boards of health in a tough spot,” Kelley says. “The board knows this pandemic is not over and they may need to revisit this rule. They hope they don’t have to.”

Kelley added that sign-ups for next week’s Phase 1B clinic filled in six minutes and once again pressed the issue of there not being enough vaccines to get to everyone all at once.