The number of new coronavirus cases in Montana reached an all-time high on Tuesday with 504 cases.
There are now 4,983 active cases with 216 active hospitalizations. A total of 10,172 residents have recovered from the disease, while 192 have died.
Much of the recent statewide increase stems from a handful of counties, including Gallatin County, which, on Tuesday, added 46 new cases, a figure that has been exceeded only twice since the pandemic began — both times in the past week.
Gallatin County has seen its seven-day rolling average of cases climb from about six or seven new cases per day in early September to 40 per day on Tuesday.
The share of tests coming back positive has also climbed above 5%, which could indicate the county is no longer doing enough testing.
The county had 217 active cases with nine hospitalizations on Tuesday. A total of 1,718 residents have tested positive for the virus since it was first detected in March. Four have died.
As the number of cases increases, contact tracing can become more difficult and less effective.
Even with the spike in cases, test results continue to come back in a few days. The median turnaround time for September was two days and, so far, the first days of October are looking similar, said county spokesperson Whitney Bermes.
Bozeman Health’s chief physician officer Dr. Mark Williams said the health care system has the capacity to handle the increase in COVID-19 cases.
“Though we are also seeing a slightly increased number of hospitalized patients, Bozeman Health currently has significant capacity in both our critical care and medical-surgical areas,” Williams said in an email. “Our surge plans are consistently reviewed and these encompass not only available hospital beds but also sufficient supplies of PPE (personal protective equipment), testing supplies and available staffing.”
Health departments and hospitals across the state have been working together to manage the increase in cases by coordinating patient care and the distribution of supplies and staff, Williams said.
More than 200 health care providers, including some in Bozeman, recently signed a letter that warned the increase in cases, coupled with the flu season, could stretch some hospitals’ capacities, according to the Billings Gazette.
Despite the increase in COVID-19 cases, Gov. Steve Bullock has repeatedly said he doesn’t plan to reimpose statewide restrictions like business closures.
“Months ago, I called on Montanans to learn how to live with this virus,” he tweeted on Monday evening.
“Now, I am calling on you to continue applying what we as a state and nation have learned stops the spread: mask up, wash your hands, stay home when sick, and avoid gatherings that do not adhere to guidelines.”
Some tribal nations and counties have implemented new restrictions in recent weeks.
On Monday, Yellowstone County Health Officer John Felton said he would enact new rules on Nov. 2, if the infection rate continues to climb, according to the Associated Press. Flathead County also indicated it is considering new restrictions.
Gallatin City-County Health Officer Matt Kelley has said he does not plan to recommend that the Gallatin City-County Board of Health implement new rules locally.