Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital

Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital is pictured on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021.

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Bozeman Health will again begin restricting visitors at all of its facilities as the health care system sees high volumes of COVID-19 patients after several patients and staff in the medical unit tested positive for the coronavirus after arriving at the hospital.

No visitors will be allowed within any of the health care system’s facilities unless they are necessary for care delivery or emotional support, said Kallie Kujawa, Bozeman Health’s lead COVID-19 incident commander Wednesday during a press briefing.

Exceptions would be made for specific visitors, including for patients at the end of life, pediatric patients, patients in a behavioral health situation or needing extra emotional support and some pregnancy visits.

Patients will also now be required to wear a mask in their rooms while a medical staff member is present, she said.

The decision to limit visitors came after a potential COVID-19 outbreak was identified on the medical unit of Bozeman Health over the weekend, Kujawa said.

Two patients on the medical unit, who were admitted to the hospital without known infection, tested positive for COVID-19, Kujawa said.

The hospital’s infection prevention team and incident command team responded, she said, in collaboration with the Gallatin City-County Health Department.

Within 24 hours, the entire staff and patients in the medical unit were tested, she said. Four staff members tested positive for the coronavirus. No other patients tested positive. After “in depth” contact tracing of all positive cases, the origins of the infection is unknown, she said.

“There’s nothing we can directly link it to,” Kuajwa said. “There’s a number of different exposure routes that we have explored, but we haven’t linked it to one particular event.”

Kujawa said the patients could have become infected from staff, patient to patient contact or visitors, saying there was more viral load in the hospital with more bodies.

“Hence, why we’re limiting visitation,” she said.

On Tuesday, the governor’s office announced 10 Montana National Guard members would be arriving in Bozeman to assist in various areas at the hospital. Deaconess Hospital plans to use guard members for environmental services — which focuses on cleaning and sanitizing hospital beds and other parts of the hospital — helping with patient transport and ambulation and entrance screening for employees and visitors for COVID-19 symptoms.

On Wednesday, Deaconess Hospital had 26 COVID-19 patients. The critical care unit was at 80% capacity, the medical unit at 97% capacity and the surgical unit at 107% capacity, Kujawa said.

Six of the 26 COVID-19 patients were in the critical care unit Wednesday, Kujawa said. The critical care unit has 20 beds.

The hospital’s surge unit, meant to house overflow COVID-19 patients, opened Wednesday but has not yet been used, Kujawa said.

Gallatin County has seen a sharp and steady increase in COVID-19 cases since August. As of Wednesday, the county had 759 active cases, 32 hospitalizations and 69 people have died.

Kujawa said Bozeman Health had not yet begun to ration care or implement “crisis standards of care,” which rations care for some patients based on likelihood of survival.

“It’s important to note that could change at any moment based on a number of factors,” Kujawa said.

Those factors include a scarcity of resources including: personnel and staff, treatments and medications, equipment and supplies, she said.

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Juliana Sukut can be reached at 582-2630 or jsukut@dailychronicle.com

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