Deaconess Hospital Viral Triage Clinic

A clerical front office staff member speaks with a patient from a doorway at the Viral Triage Clinic on Friday at Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital.

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The Gallatin City-County Health Department has ordered those who have tested positive for COVID-19 and their close contacts to stay home.

A violation of the order is a misdemeanor. Those found guilty could be fined.

People awaiting test results must also remain at home. If they don’t, they could be charged with a misdemeanor and could face fines.

“Virtually everyone we are working with has been incredibly cooperative in staying home to protect themselves and their community,” health officer Matt Kelley said in a news release. “This order is a tool for the health department that we can use to be prepared if we have a situation where someone is not being cooperative.”

The health department will continue to work with every person who tests positive for COVID-19 and their close contacts, the release said. The department will also continue providing guidance and support to people with COVID-19 and their close contacts during their time at home.

“These orders work hand-in-hand with other local and state measures, like the stay-at-home order, to help slow the spread of COVID-19,” Kelley said.

The statewide stay-at-home order, which ends April 24, prohibits residents from leaving their homes except for necessities like medication and groceries and to go outside. While in public, people must remain 6 feet away from each other. Some businesses — including restaurants offering takeout, delivery and drive-through services — remain open.

Before Bullock announced his statewide order, the Gallatin City-County Health Department created an emergency rule closing public spaces such as gyms and the dining areas of restaurants. At the time, Kelley and Sheriff Brian Gootkin both said the county wouldn’t look for or punish rule-breakers but would instead focus on educating people about the importance of following the health department’s requirements.

In a press call on Tuesday, Bullock said he hoped law enforcement wouldn’t need to uphold the stay-at-home order.

“What I’d recommend is Montanans never allow it get to a point where local law enforcement would need to intervene,” he said. “…At the end of the day, this is about us taking care of neighbors not necessarily about local law enforcement needing to interject all the time.”

The number of cases statewide continues to climb. As of Wednesday, there were 332 cases of COVID-19. Six people had died from the disease, 31 were hospitalized and 135 had recovered. A total of 7,398 COVID-19 tests had been conducted.

Gallatin County had 120 cases as of Wednesday. The county’s number of cases has increased slowly over the last few days, but the Gallatin City-County Health Department warns it’s too early to draw conclusions about the local trajectory of the coronavirus.

Between the first confirmed case on March 13 and Sunday, the county saw about five new cases each day.

This week, the county has reported smaller increases each day with 115 cases on Sunday, 118 on Monday, 119 on Tuesday and 120 on Wednesday.

“I think a lot of people are wondering why the cases are down,” said Tracy Knoedler, the health department’s human services director. “We don’t want to provide false hope because it’s really too early to know.”

The decline in the number of COVID-19 cases this week stems in part from the fact that health care providers have conducted fewer tests in recent days, Knoedler said. Over the weekend, there were about 30 to 50 tests each day. Previously, the county averaged about 60 to 80 tests daily.

There were fewer tests over the weekend because health care providers requested fewer of them.

“Testing is provider-driven,” Knoedler said. “There hasn’t been a change in access to testing.”

Initially, testing was restricted to those who had COVID-19 symptoms and had traveled in an area where the virus had spread or had close contact with someone who had tested positive for the disease. Now that Gallatin County has community spread of the virus, testing is performed when a health care provider requests it.

The Gallatin City-County Health Department only has about a month of local data on the coronavirus, which isn’t enough to understand the virus because it has a long incubation period, Knoedler said. To better understand the virus, the health department is looking at its progression in other states.

On Friday, as the number of cases in Gallatin County passed 100, Kelley said there were indications that social distancing was working but cautioned it was too early to stop following social distancing guidelines.

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Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.