Masks Downtown

A masked shopper walks along Main Street Dec. 31.

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Gallatin County is getting ready to vaccinate the second group of people against COVID-19 sometime this month.

Health Officer Matt Kelley said the county may be nearing the end of vaccinating the first group within the next two weeks. He said state officials had set a goal to be done with vaccinations for that group by Jan 15.

“That does seem fairly reasonable to us right now,” Kelley said.

Kelley said he wants the county to be ready when the state decides to start poking arms in the second group, which he hopes is this month.

“We’re hoping to get toward the end of that (group) sometime next week and be ready to move into the next phase, when the state is ready to do that,” he said.

Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte revised the state’s vaccination plan earlier this week, increasing the number of people in the second group from 90,000 to 250,000. Gianforte said the shuffle prioritizes people older than 70 and those between the ages 16 and 69 with specific health conditions who are more vulnerable to COVID-19 complications.

Kelley said it shouldn’t be a surprise that everybody can’t be vaccinated at once.

When the state began doling out the vaccine, the county received 300 doses. This week the county received 1,000 doses. And early next week, the county is expecting to get 500 doses.

Kelley said most people in the second group will not be able to get the vaccine in the first month that it becomes available to them.

“We just don’t have enough vaccine available,” he said.

He said no one is to blame, and that people should know this will take time. Kelley said there are no right-or-wrong answers to get this done.

Kelley made the comments during a virtual press conference on Friday where he went over a report highlighting COVID-19 case numbers in the county. The report shows cases in schools, demographics on who’s getting the virus and the average daily number of new cases per 100,000 residents over the previous week.

From Jan. 1 to Thursday, 32 people associated with Montana State University had contracted the virus. Of those cases, 23 remain active while nine people have recovered.

The report showed that 19 schools — elementary, middle and high schools — were managing active cases. Gallatin and Lone Peak high schools each had the highest number of cases with four students or staff testing positive for the virus.

The county’s average number of new cases over the past week is 65 per 100,000 residents, a 13% increase from last week’s seven-day average. On New Year’s Day, that average was 58 new cases daily per 100,000 residents over the previous week.

Kelley said that the health department continues to use all its resources to call people with the virus and figure out how they might have spread it. However, he said, that changes on a day-to-day basis and becomes difficult when that number continues to climb.

“When we start getting much above this, it can become more challenging to do some of those more thorough contact tracing investigations, especially in light of the fact that we’re also working hard to get vaccine distributed in a timely way,” Kelley said.

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Freddy Monares can be reached at fmonares@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2630.

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