Gardiner

The town of Gardiner is seen pullout on Jardine Road on Aug. 17, 2017.

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As Montana continues to reopen and visitors arrive for the summer tourist season, the state is seeing an uptick in coronavirus cases and is expanding testing.

There were 25 new cases in Montana on Thursday, the largest single-day increase since late March. The new cases bring the state’s total number of active cases to 90, with eight hospitalizations.

Gallatin County announced two new cases on Thursday for a total of 11 active cases.

Gov. Steve Bullock has attributed the spike in cases to an increase in testing and the state’s reopening.

Last week, Montana conducted about 11,000 tests, a 50% increase from the prior week, which indicates the state is working toward its goal but still falling short.

In a press call on Wednesday, Bullock said the number of tests isn’t as important as ensuring widespread community testing is available. There is no timeline for meeting the testing goal.

Much of the new testing is of asymptomatic people at long-term care facilities, in tribal nations and in gateway towns.

“It’s important to note that this testing only captures a snapshot in time, but by understanding if the virus is currently in communities, we can more quickly identify new cases, isolate, contact trace to identify potential other cases and quarantine and keep Montana communities safe,” said Bullock spokesperson Erin Loranger.

Since Montana began asymptomatic testing in early May, about 4,500 tests have been completed at long-term care facilities and about 7,500 tests have been conducted in tribal nations, according to a news release from the governor’s office.

In recent weeks, asymptomatic testing has focused on gateway towns, which have seen an influx of visitors since the mandatory 14-day quarantine for travelers was lifted on June 1.

As part of the state’s effort, there will be a free, public drive-thru testing at Gardiner High School from 1 to 7 p.m. on Friday, and at Park County High School from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

The state is providing about 500 tests for the Gardiner event and 3,000 for the Livingston event, said Park County Health Department Director Julie Anderson.

About eight county staff members, 15 National Guard members and volunteers from Livingston HealthCare, Community Health Partners and Medcor will oversee the drive-thru events.

It will likely take about 10 minutes for people to get tested and then three to seven days for them to receive results. The Park County Health Department will follow up with those who test positive.

Those seeking tests will be asked to complete a short survey about their mental and physical health and their recent use of services such as those provided by the food bank, Anderson said. The survey results will help Park County develop its ongoing response to COVID-19.

“We’re hoping to get a good snapshot of our community needs and respond to the increased requests we’ve been getting for testing,” Anderson said.

The health department has also been testing employees at businesses that have significant contact with tourists.

“We’re not going to turn anyone away who requests this because we want to stay open,” Anderson said.

Park County has planned testing events in mid-July and mid-August, as well.

Unlike Park County, Gallatin County isn’t planning testing events.

Because Gallatin County is considerably larger than places like Park County, it could be difficult to capture a meaningful subset of the population at a testing event, said health officer Matt Kelley.

Other large counties, such as Yellowstone and Lewis and Clark, are holding testing events.

Instead of having testing events, the Gallatin City-County Health Department has expanded the number of people it targets through contact tracing. Typically, if a person tests positive for COVID-19, contact tracers will reach out to their close contacts, which is defined as those with whom the person has been closer than six feet to for more than 15 minutes. Now, the contact tracers may test the person’s entire workplace.

“We want to go fishing where there are fish,” Kelley said.

Several of the county’s cases over the last few weeks were identified through contact tracing.

“We are focused on testing those close to known cases, so we can quickly find and isolate new cases,” Kelley said. “We also want to make sure we have the resources to support everyone who tests positive.”

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Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.