Masked people walk along Main Street in downtown Bozeman on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021.

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As COVID-19 cases continue to climb in Gallatin County, the health care system is beginning to stretch thin.

“We have had days where all our regular beds in the emergency department were full and we were using hallway spaces,” said Dr. Kathryn Bertany at Bozeman Health during a Friday press conference.

COVID-19 hospitalizations increased and have remained in the double digits in the past couple of weeks. As of Friday, there were 20 people hospitalized in the county and 228 statewide.

Dr. Andrew Sullivan, a respiratory specialist and critical care physician at Bozeman Health, said that seven of 12 ICU beds at Bozeman Health were filled with patients sick with COVID-19. Four were on life support, he said.

“All of those are unvaccinated individuals,” he said. “We have not seen somebody vaccinated on life support for COVID-19.”

In the past month, 28 of 39 of all hospitalized patients with COVID-19 at Deaconess Hospital and Big Sky Medical Center have been unvaccinated, according to Bozeman Health. Only one person at the ICU at Deaconess Hospital was fully vaccinated.

The rise in hospitalizations coincides with a rise of active COVID-19 cases. As of Friday, Gallatin County had 213 active cases. The state had 4,628 active cases, up from 3,473 the previous week, a 33% increase. In total, 1,783 Montanans have died from the virus — 64 were Gallatin County residents.

Bertany urged everyone eligible to get a vaccine not only to protect themselves against the virus but loved ones, too. She stressed the need to wear masks, especially to prevent the spread to Gallatin County’s youngest residents.

“Kids of any age can get sick,” she said. “It helps protect those who aren’t able to get the vaccine. I’ve seen kids as young as 29 days sick in the hospital with COVID.”

There has been an uptick in vaccine demand in the past couple of weeks, Gallatin City-County Public Health Officer Lori Christenson said. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday gave the Pfizer vaccine full approval for everyone aged 16 and older.

People 12 to 15 can still get the Pfizer vaccine through the FDA’s emergency approval.

By Friday, 57% of the eligible population — anyone 12 years and older — in Gallatin County has been fully vaccinated. Overall, about 50% of Montanans have been fully vaccinated, according to the Department of Public Health and Human Services.

About 34% of children aged 12 to 17 and 46% of people aged 18 to 29 had been fully vaccinated as of Aug. 20.

“We’re trending in the right direction in terms of interest and uptake in vaccines,” Christenson said.

Gallatin County is still experiencing “high” community transmission rates, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC recommends that everyone, vaccinated or not, wear a mask in indoor public spaces in communities experiencing substantial or high transmission.

A county must have a weekly cumulative count of 100 or more cases per 100,000 people to be considered “high” transmission. As of Wednesday, Gallatin County had 177 cases per 100,000 residents, a nearly 22% increase from the previous week, according to the CDC.

Since July 30, the county health department has recommended again wearing masks in indoor public spaces for both vaccinated and not vaccinated people, following the CDC guidelines.

The percentage of tests that returned a positive result increased from the week prior, from a 7-day rolling average of 7% last week to 8.5% on Tuesday, according to the health department’s weekly report.

As of Aug. 19, 16 cases were associated with the Montana State University. A handful were associated with some grade schools in the county.

In a joint press release issued Friday, Bozeman Health, the Gallatin City-County Health Department, Billings Clinic Bozeman and the Community Health Partners commended the Bozeman school district and Montana State University for requiring masks.

“This is a very important and crucial decision,” said Louis Mendiola, Bozeman Health COVID-19 Deputy Incident Command Lead.

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Juliana Sukut can be reached at 582-2630 or

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