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Even with recent outbreaks in Big Horn and Yellowstone counties in the last few days, Montana has fared better than similar states when it comes to growth in cases of the novel coronavirus, something health officials attribute in part to the settings where new cases have popped up.

All the cases have been connected in these two new clusters, so we’re not seeing community spread at this point in time,” state medical director Greg Holzman said in a call with reporters Monday. “We want to continue to get out in front of it with our contact tracing to be sure that the outbreak does not get larger.”

Since April 26, the day churches were allowed to reopen at limited capacity, followed the next day by retail operations and a week later by bars and restaurants, Montana has added 71 cases of COVID-19 through Monday.

The state’s second phase of reopening, with higher capacity at bars and restaurants and places like concert halls allowed to operate, started Monday. A 14-day travel quarantine for people coming to Montana also expired Monday.

There are 22 active cases tied to the Big Horn County cluster. Eight of the dozen active cases in Yellowstone County are connected to exposure at the county detention facility. An additional outbreak of eight cases in Ravalli County earlier this month is from people who traveled from outside Montana to work at the exclusive Stock Farm Club.

That means roughly half of the cases the state has added since starting its gradual reopening have been linked to some sort of cluster. When Montana entered a stay-at-home order in late March, several larger counties reported they had community spread, meaning new cases could not be tied to existing ones, but that’s not how cases are increasing now.

Though neighboring states are similar in population density, they have not seen the same trajectory of case growth. Wyoming, which never issued a statewide stay-at-home order, regularly adds more cases than Montana, including a spike of 30 on May 2. Many public health officers here attributed Montana’s early stay-at-home order to continued low case growth in Big Sky country.

North Dakota reports case growth in the double digits daily, from the 30s to the 50s, including a peak of 134 on May 21. That state also never had a statewide order telling people to stay home, though it did close many types of businesses.

On two consecutive days in May, South Dakota added 239 and 249 cases, which is nearly as much as Montana’s total. Cases tied to a meatpacking plant there account for one of the largest single outbreaks in the country.

As Montana moves into its next phase of lifted restrictions, each community is watching for its own risk factors. In Gallatin County, that’s the opening of the Montana entrances to Yellowstone National Park, which happened Monday.

As the state expands testing capacity following an ambitious plan by Bullock to test 60,000 a month with a focus on at-risk populations first, Gallatin County is working to build testing capacity in West Yellowstone. Part of Bullock’s plan also calls for increased testing in so-called destination communities around Montana that see high tourist numbers, an attempt to catch any cases early to quickly isolate those who are sick.

Though the county, which was a hot spot in the state in March and April, has seen low case growth for weeks, health officer Matt Kelley urged people to keep up distancing and sanitation practices.

“We’re still in at that really early part in the summer. We haven’t had a lot of new visitors come in and a lot of new cases imported in. It’s not the time for victory dances. We’re still right at that cusp of summer. We’ve got Yellowstone Park reopening. We’ve got the quarantine order lifting going into Phase 2. I think we need to continue to be cautious,” Kelley said.

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