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The Gallatin City-County Health Department reported Thursday that another resident died of COVID-19 complications.

The woman was in her 90s and lived in a long-term care facility. She died last week at a hospital. It was the 10th death in Gallatin County related to COVID-19.

It’s the sixth death reported in the county in the past three weeks. Five of them have been tied to long-term care facilities.

Gallatin County health officer Matt Kelley said the deaths aren’t all connected to the same place. He said there are multiple cases in several long-term care facilities right now, which he’s concerned about.

Eight of the county’s 10 deaths have been people in their 80s or 90s.

“Deaths are the thing we’re trying to prevent. Rapid and sustained growth and a number of cases overall is making that very difficult,” Kelley said. “Because they’re all part of a pattern. When you have a lot of cases overall, a percentage of those people will have to be hospitalized and some percentage of those will die.”

There were 407 deaths statewide reported by the Montana Department of Health and Human Services as of Thursday. The state also reported 1,013 new cases Thursday, which is the second highest new daily total since the pandemic began.

There were 732 active cases and 19 people hospitalized in the county as of Wednesday afternoon.

Monday set a new daily case record in Gallatin County with 226 reported. The seven-day rolling average for new daily cases is 129.6. Contact tracing efforts have been strained because of the rapid spread.

“The reason we’re working so hard to prevent transmission in the community is to prevent those worse outcomes” like hospitalizations and deaths, Kelley said.

Since the start of the pandemic, the health department has focused on preventing the virus from reaching long-term care facilities and other congregate settings. A full-time staff member has been assigned entirely to connecting with long-term care facilities, coordinating to get them personal protective equipment and to implement testing strategies and visitor policies.

Kelley complimented the staff at those facilities and said their cooperation is part of why the number of deaths had been low until recently.

As cases have gone up in the past month, it’s become “more difficult, if not impossible, to keep cases out of those places,” Kelley said.

“That is on the top of our priority list,” he added.

Wearing a face covering, staying 6 feet away from others and washing your hands are considered the best ways to prevent spreading the coronavirus. It can be sneaky, Kelley said, because asymptomatic people can spread the virus to people who end up experiencing much worse symptoms.

The Gallatin City-County Health Department planned to meet virtually at 7 a.m. Friday to discuss lowering allowable group sizes — from 50 people to 25 regardless of the ability to physical distance — and restricting businesses like bars and restaurants.

Proposals include moving up closing times for bars and restaurants from 12:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tables could be limited to six people and maximum capacity could be dropped from 75% down to 50% for businesses like bars, restaurants, fitness centers and other places of assembly.

“Those are difficult decisions,” Kelley said, “so they’ll probably be doing as much listening as anything to think through those rules.”

Montana has been in phase two of its reopening plan since June. Gov. Steve Bullock has recently encouraged local health departments to impose stricter rules if necessary. The potential changes in Gallatin County are similar to rules implemented in the plan’s first phase.

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Paul Schwedelson can be reached at or 406-582-2670. Follow him on Twitter @pschweds.