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The spread of COVID-19 in Gallatin County is on the decline.

As of Thursday, the seven-day rolling average of cases per 100,000 residents was 25.8, a 21% decrease from the previous week. The numbers are a good sign, county health officer Matt Kelley said Friday, especially considering that a weekly case rate under 25 per 100,000 people is considered by many public health experts a threshold of whether there is uncontrolled spread.

Still, Kelley cautioned that there is still cause for concern.

“While we’re down significantly from where we were in November, and that is absolutely a good thing. I want to make sure that we’re keeping in mind the long term,” Kelley said. “We’re still above where we were we were pretty much anytime last year.”

The county’s positivity rate was 4.7% as of Tuesday, though Kelley noted the positivity rate without data from Big Sky’s surveillance testing program is about 6.9%. Turnaround times for test results and for contact tracing continue to be positive, Kelley said.

There are four cases at long term care facilities, Kelley said, and a handful at county schools.

Younger people are still accounting for a large share of the cases, Kelley said, but cases associated with Montana State University have remained fairly steady, with 26 reported over the last week to bring the total to 221 since Jan. 1.

The steady number of cases is allowing MSU to conduct isolation and quarantine efforts, Kelley said.

Starting from a higher number of cases means the spread of COVID-19 could accelerate faster in the future, Kelley said, and Gallatin County’s case numbers could see the impact of how COVID-19 is spreading statewide.

“We are still at a fairly high plateau compared to where we were before we saw that fall surge,” Kelley said. “The concern there is (it’s) a high platform to start if we do have another surge with those variants out there, with some of the changes that we’re seeing statewide with regard to how much we’re managing activities, those community interventions, the going away of the mask mandate statewide and some of the restrictions being lifted on certain businesses including in Gallatin County.”

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Nora Shelly can be reached at nshelly@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2607.