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COVID-19 is on a notable uptick in Gallatin County after downward trends down since the beginning of the year.

Gallatin City-County Health Officer Matt Kelley said Friday there is a “gradual, noticeable” increase in cases in the county. The 7-day rolling average of daily cases was 31.5 per 100,000 residents as of Thursday, according to the county’s weekly surveillance report, a 42.5% increase from the previous week.

“It’s not a precipitous rise, but it is something that we’re really keeping a close eye on,” Kelley said.

People in their 20s are leading the case counts, according to the weekly report, and the health department reported 35 cases related to Montana State University this week. Many of the infections at the university are related to students living off campus, Kelley said.

The increase in cases is also coming with an increase in the positivity rate — the portion of COVID tests that indicate someone is infected — which was 5.9% on a 7-day rolling average on Tuesday, up from 4.4% the week before.

Data from wastewater testing, which was falling close to the non-detect range, also show COVID-19 is on the rise.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 have remained low. According to the health department’s daily report, there were two current hospitalizations on Friday, though those can fluctuate frequently.

Kelley noted hospitalizations are a “lagging indicator.”

Though the majority of cases are in younger people, Kelley said the trend tends to be followed by a gradual spread to older people. What is different now is that older residents are more likely to be vaccinated.

The impact of the vaccines on hospitalization rates remains to be seen, Kelley said.

“We can assume it’ll have some positive impact. We don’t know if it’ll be enough to help us keep people out of the hospital,” he said. “That’s the big mystery that we’re keeping a pretty close eye on.”

There are additional cases connected to the more-infectious UK variant of the virus, Kelley said, which was detected in Gallatin County earlier this month. Kelley said the Montana Department of Health and Human Services is also looking at other test specimens that may be related to other variants.

The variant’s presence in the county should not be a surprise, Kelley said.

“The bottom line that people need to know is that we’re not done with this. We have active disease in Gallatin County. We have more cases right now than we had most of the time last summer,” Kelley said. “If we can bear down this spring, and really keep our case numbers down this spring while we keep vaccinating thousands of people each week, we’re going to have a better chance of that and a more normal summer.”

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Nora Shelly can be reached at or 406-582-2607.