People entering Deaconess

People enter Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital in this March 2020 file photo.

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Public health officials in Gallatin County believe the four cases of novel coronavirus confirmed in the area on Saturday were contracted locally, and are again stressing the precautions people should take to slow the spread of the disease.

Two more cases were confirmed in the county Sunday evening and those two patients were exposed to the virus outside of Montana, according to a press release. Gallatin County now has 10 cases of the virus, the most in the state.

The four patients who tested positive Saturday had no known travel history, exposure to someone who traveled or exposure to known COVID-19 cases, according to a news release from the Gallatin City-County Health Department. They are in isolation with mild symptoms, and close contacts of the patients are also quarantined.

Matt Kelley, health officer for the department, said during a live-streamed press conference Sunday that because officials cannot trace the origin of these four cases, they were most likely contacted locally.

“There was not a clear idea of where the infection came from, so that’s a pretty good indication that (the patients) picked it up somewhere in the community,” Kelley said.

Four patients in Gallatin County confirmed last week had traveled internationally or domestically to places where COVID-19 had spread, meaning they had contracted the virus outside of the state.

As of Sunday afternoon, Montana as a whole had 34 cases. According to Montana Disaster and Emergency Services, 1,392 people in Montana have been tested by the state lab or by the U.S. Centers for the Disease Control as of Sunday.

Kelley said this weekend’s developments will not change how officials decide who needs to be tested for the virus. Kelley said that there are shortages of tests and personal protective equipment around the country and in Montana, and that the United States needs to work to address that.

However, Kelley noted that a positive test does not change the health department’s recommendations for someone with a mild case of COVID-19, which is to stay home and rest.

Kelley said officials anticipated that community transmission of the illness would occur.

“We stress again that now is the time to take strong action, and this underlines the importance of the restrictions and closures (Gallatin City-County Health Department) and the governor have put into place to limit the spread of this disease,” Kelley said in the news release.

Last week, both the county and Gov. Steve Bullock’s office ordered the closure of businesses like dine-in restaurants, gyms, theaters and others with communal gatherings. Bozeman Health suspended all non-urgent medical visits at all of its sites. The governor’s office advised that anyone who returns from international travel should self-quarantine for 14 days.

In a second news release Sunday, Gallatin County announced a number of offices are now closed to the public, including the motor vehicle department offices in Bozeman and Belgrade, the treasurer’s office, planning and community development and the GIS office, among others. The departments are working to remain operational by phone, online and through the mail.

A list of the closures and operational changes can be found at gallatin.mt.gov.

Although public health officials concluded that community transmission occurred in Gallatin County, Kelley said their advice isn’t changing from before. He urged people to stay at home when they feel sick, to wash hands frequently, to disinfect surfaces touched often and to avoid groups of people.

“The greatest advantage we have over this virus is our own discipline and willingness to distance ourselves from others,” Kelley said.

Kelley said that even though data show that about 80% of cases are mild and that children are largely unaffected by the virus, people ignoring public health advice will only lead to further spread of the virus.

“I urge you all to guard against the danger of allowing these comforting bright spots to lull you into complacency,” Kelley said.

Finally, Kelley asked that people who are at low-risk for the virus think of those who have pre-existing conditions, immune-system deficiencies or are older.

“Now is the time to pay attention and take this seriously. Now is the time for each of us to take personal responsibility, not just for ourselves, but for our fellow humans,” Kelley said.

The Gallatin City-County Health Department’s call center for COVID-19 is open seven days per week, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. It can be reached at (406) 548-0123.

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Shaylee Ragar can be reached at sragar@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2607.