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All of the local coronavirus numbers are headed in the wrong direction and getting steadily worse. Our health care system is being strained to the breaking point. And yet, as a community, we remain sharply divided over the extent of measures needed to stem the spread of COVID-19 — or whether those measures are even needed at all.

It’s high time we all get serious and get on the same page about this disease. Or local health and education officials are going to have to do some cold, hard calculating. And that calculation will be just how much sickness, death and rationing of health care are we willing to put up with in the name of economic activity and face-to-face education.

In the past week, the seven-day moving average of confirmed infections in the county has risen sharply. Bozeman Deaconess Hospital is so short staffed health care workers exposed to the virus were being asked to shorten quarantine times by half and return to work earlier than recommended. Statewide, calls are out for out-of-state health care providers to help hospitals in Billings and Great Falls. New confirmed infections are topping 1,000 on some days. COVID-related hospitalizations have surpassed 500 and the death toll is approaching 500.

The reality is that the pandemic is much worse now that it has been since it began last winter.

The week before last, the local health board imposed nominal new restrictions — earlier closings and lower occupancy rates for bars and restaurants and fewer people allowed in gyms and coffee shops as well. The group gathering size limit was halved to 25 with schools and churches excepted. But even those minimal restrictions were met with many objections from those in the business community.

Gallatin County Health Officer Matt Kelly and board members are commended for making the tough decisions in the face of opposition.

But there is another way. If masking, social distancing and crowd-limiting requirements were strictly adhered to, the infection rate will be pulled down. But there are many in our midst who stubbornly refuse to abide by those requirements and insist the pandemic is no big deal.

It’s become crystal clear that those who refuse to abide by the mandates are fueling the pandemic and will ultimately force local policy makers to impose many more restrictions on commercial activity. We need to let those resistors know they will be held responsible for sickness, death, rationed health care and economic lockdowns that may be coming before next spring arrives.

We can do this the hard way or the better way. Mask up, stay home when possible and stay out of crowds. Period. Or we all will pay the price one way or another.

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Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Nick Ehli, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Will Swearingen, community member
  • Angie Wasia, community member

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