Bozeman COVID-19 testing

Health workers test for COVID-19 at Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital on Monday, June 22, 2020.

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As Big Sky experiences a surge in coronavirus cases, Bozeman Health will conduct free testing at Big Sky Medical Center on Wednesday.

The testing is Gallatin County’s first major attempt to provide COVID-19 tests to anyone who wants them.

“We’re going to give it a try,” said Gallatin City-County Health Officer Matt Kelley, who is coordinating the event with Bozeman Health and the Madison County Health Department. “It will be interesting to see what happens.”

Bozeman Health estimates it will be able to perform about 500 tests on Wednesday.

Asymptomatic people will be able to drive up to the ambulance bay at Big Sky Medical Center between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. to have a nasal swab test. They aren’t expected to quarantine while awaiting the results, which will be available in about a week.

Minors must have their parents or guardian with them to be tested.

Those who are symptomatic should visit the viral triage clinic at Big Sky Medical Center or contact their primary care provider.

The expansion of testing comes as Gallatin County and Montana are seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases.

Gallatin County announced 11 new cases on Tuesday.

The new cases are located throughout the county, according to a health department news release. They are connected to existing cases, stem from community spread or are connected to travel.

Health officials have revised previous days’ totals because three cases have been reassigned to other counties, according to the news release.

Gallatin County now has 44 active cases with one hospitalization. The county has had a total of 274 cases with 229 recoveries and one death.

Statewide, there were 49 new cases on Tuesday, down from the single-day record of 56 on Monday.

The new cases bring the state total to 303 active cases with 12 hospitalizations.

Montana has had 967 cases statewide with 642 recoveries and 22 deaths.

There have been some discrepancies between state and county testing data as the county data includes tourists and out-of-state residents who are recovering locally and state and county data are released at different times of the day.

The state plans to begin including data on visitor cases later this week, according to Jon Ebelt, spokesperson for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.

The recent increases in COVID-19 cases in Montana and Gallatin County stem, in part, from a spike in Big Sky.

The virus was first detected in Big Sky’s wastewater on June 16. When wastewater samples were collected on June 23, the concentration of the virus in the wastewater had increased.

The Gallatin City-County Health Department also reported last week that 10 people in Big Sky had recently tested positive for the virus. Many of those cases were connected to large social gatherings.

Wednesday’s testing event in Big Sky is part of a statewide effort to expand COVID-19 testing.

The state has provided testing supplies for the Big Sky event as it has for testing efforts in long-term care facilities, tribal nations and gateway towns.

Community Health Partners, the main health care provider in West Yellowstone, is preparing to conduct surveillance testing likely beginning this week, Kelley said.

The Montana VA Health Care System is also holding free testing for veterans in Bozeman from 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesday at its local clinic at 300 N. Willson Ave.

Bozeman Health plans to expand surveillance testing beyond the Big Sky event and will likely focus its work on areas that see an increase in new cases, said Birgen Knoff, system director of clinical practice.

“Any surveillance testing that you conduct really does allow for the identification of people who are positive but are asymptomatic for one reason or another,” Knoff said. “You can have the unwitting spread of disease just because you are an asymptomatic carrier, so we really want to identify those people.”

Despite the recent increase in testing events, the Gallatin City-County Health Department has said surveillance testing isn’t its focus. Instead, the department has been working to expand contact tracing, using confirmed cases to lead to others who may also be infected.

“If you look at surveillance testing across the state, it hasn’t led to a large number of cases, which is good, but from a local-resources perspective, we want to spend our money where we’re more likely to find cases, so we can get them isolated and limit the spread,” Kelley said.

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

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