Campus Masks

A Montana State University student exits MSU’s Renne Library while wearing a mask Friday.

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Although Gallatin County’s coronavirus cases have remained stable over the last week, county health officials caution a spike in the fall is possible and report a fourth death related to the virus.

Montana State University’s return to in-person classes has yet to lead to a significant increase in cases, according to the Gallatin City-County Health Department’s weekly surveillance report.

“From today’s report, we can see that 93% of all the currently active cases in the county are not associated with MSU,” Tracy Ellig, spokesman for the university, said in an email.

On Friday, the Gallatin City-County Health Department also announced a woman in her 90s died from coronavirus-related factors in late August. It was the fourth coronavirus related death the county recorded.

The department said it had received the official death certificate earlier in the week, and her death was attributed to significant underlying health conditions, with the novel coronavirus listed as a “significant contributing factor in her death.”

The health department said further details on the death would not be released.

“We send our deepest condolences to the family,” said Gallatin City-County Health Department Health Officer Matt Kelley in a statement. “We must stay vigilant to protect ourselves, our families, our friends, and our most vulnerable neighbors.”

In the health department’s weekly report, 41 cases have been associated with Montana State University since August 1, with three of those active cases. It was a 50% decrease in active cases from the previous week.

“Overall, community-wide, we’re gratified to see the numbers holding steady, and we’re working hard to bring them down even further,” Kelley told the Chronicle. “But we’re aware and preparing for later on this fall to get worse too.”

Kelley said by the end of next week the county should have a clearer picture on how seriously people took social-distancing recommendations during the Labor Day weekend.

“That’ll be the time,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see how we’re doing then.”

Cold and flu season is expected to pose a big challenge across the country this year, he said.

“It’ll put stress on our health care system and organizations to really figure out who’s sick and why they’re sick,” he said. “It’s made more complicated by COVID, which has a long list of symptoms shared with other diseases.”

MSU continues to test symptomatic students at its free on-campus testing site. Ellig said testing volume ranges from 10 to 30 students per day.

Kelley said he was on board with the plan to constrain testing to symptomatic students when plans were created in July because state and national testing capacity was struggling to keep up with the demand.

“As our capacity expands, our ability to do the additional testing will also expand,” he said.

Ellig said the university is working to offer testing to asymptomatic students, but it was dependent on the overall testing capacity of the state of Montana. He added the low numbers associated with MSU was “reason for cautious optimism” after the first month of classes.

“We’ve worked very hard as an entire university community to keep the spread of the virus low,” he said. “We are very grateful to our students. Its thanks to their cooperation that we’ve gotten this far. ”

On Friday, the county reported 10 new cases of the virus, bringing the total cumulative cases to 1,169. There are 45 active cases and one hospitalization. The rolling seven-day average for the county was about seven new cases per day.

“Our case numbers are down because our community has taken it seriously and made sacrifices,” Kelley said. “I’m hopeful that as we move into the fall we can continue to focus on those fundamentals.”

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.