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In the first two weeks of 2022, Gallatin County added just over 3,500 COVID-19 cases, according to data from the Gallatin City-County Health Department.

The seven-day rolling average of cases in the county increased 22% from last week, according to the health department’s weekly surveillance report.

Compared to the last week in December, the weekly rolling average increased by roughly 305%.

With the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases and a high level of community transmission, Lori Christenson, the county’s public health officer, urged vaccination and mask use during a Friday press conference.

“We continue to experience high community transmission,” Christenson said. “That means that we should, regardless of vaccination status, be wearing a mask in indoor public spaces.”

The community transmission rate in Gallatin County is about 20 times higher than what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers high rates of transmission. The CDC ranks transmission rates as “high” if a county sees 100 or more cumulative cases per 100,000 people over seven days. Friday, the county had 2,086 cumulative cases per 100,000.

As of Friday, Gallatin County had 2,629 active COVID-19 cases. The health department this week announced another death due to complications from COVID-19.

A man in his 60s died at a hospital the week of Dec. 26. His death brings the countywide total to 108.

Statewide, Montana had 2,177 cases, 2,945 deaths and 195 people were hospitalized Friday.

With the increase in cases, the number of people seeking COVID-19 tests has also spiked.

Kallie Kujawa, Bozeman Health’s lead COVID-19 incident commander, said testing sites at Deaconess Hospital processed nearly 4,500 COVID-19 test last week alone.

That didn’t include tests being run from Bozeman Health’s other testing sites across the county.

The health care system collected an average of 550 swabs per day for COVID-19 tests, Kujawa said.

“That’s the highest collection demands we’ve experienced throughout the pandemic,” she said.

Tests results are coming back on average between 24 to 72 hours, Kujawa said. Times can vary though.

“We appreciate those who are patient and understanding as we experience these extraordinarily high testing volumes,” Kujawa said.

Gallatin County does not have additional at-home COVID-19 tests. Gov. Greg Gianforte announced Thursday that the state would receive 650,000 at-home tests to be distributed across the state.

The Department of Public Health and Human Services said Thursday in an email to the Chronicle that plans on how kits would be allocated and how many Gallatin County would receive was still being finalized.

Christenson said she expected to hear about testing kits from DPHHS next week. The county is still on backorder from DPHHS for more at-home test kits.

The health department had been giving out the rapid tests at sites across the county, but supplies ran out last week except for at a few rural locations.

As of Friday, Kujawa said Deaconess Hospital had 14 COVID-19 patients. Five of those patients were in the critical care unit, which was at 75% capacity.

The hospital’s medical unit and surgical unit were at 92% and 93% respectively.

About 61% of Gallatin County’s eligible population — anyone five years and older — has been fully vaccinated. Montana’s overall vaccination rate was 53%.

The county’s younger population, especially children younger than 17, continue to have the lowest vaccination rate. Children aged 12 to 17 are 45% fully vaccinated while 21% of children aged 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated.

The health department is opening a weekend vaccination clinic at the fairgrounds this Saturday and Sunday, and Jan. 22 and Jan. 23, for people 12 years old and older.

To find a vaccine provider or make an appointment visit www.healthygallatin.org, or call the COVID-19 hotline at 406-548-0123.

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Juliana Sukut can be reached at 582-2630 or jsukut@dailychronicle.com

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