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As COVID-19 cases decline, counties move to text notifications

Unlike robotexts or calls, peer-to-peer campaign texts are personal messages that come from volunteers who initiate a conversation with potential voters or supporters.

Starting tomorrow, Yellowstone County residents who test positive for COVID-19 will be notified by text message.

RiverStone Health, which serves as the city-county health department, says the text will include a link to a secure form that asks for basic health info. People will also be asked to notify any close contacts who may have been exposed.

State health data show Yellowstone County still has the highest number of active cases of any county in Montana with 207 as of Tuesday, though hospitalizations have fallen dramatically over the past month to an average of 21 a day.

RiverStone Health said in a news release announcing the change that the shift to automated notifications follows successful rollouts by other counties, including Flathead and Gallatin, which last week moved to a fully automated system for COVID-19 case investigation and contact tracing.

Gallatin County Health Officer Lori Christensen said in a statement that because the department has more tools for COVID-19 prevention and care, it’s appropriate to focus efforts on “more severe outcomes,” such as hospitalizations and deaths.

Gallatin County is currently experiencing a “low community level” of COVID-19, which, under new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, means residents can take minimal, practical precautions to prevent the spread of the virus.

Statewide, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to decline. Hospitalizations have fallen to their lowest point since the summer of 2021. Around 80 people in the state are in the hospital for COVID-19 as of Tuesday. The number of active cases statewide sat at nearly 950.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, transmission levels are considered low or medium in more than half of counties statewide, meaning most people in those places can go mask-free indoors.

Wearing masks indoors is still recommended for all individuals in areas where transmission is considered high. A little over a third of counties in the state still fall into that category.

Nadya joined Yellowstone Public Radio as news director in October 2021. Before coming to YPR, she spent six years as digital news editor/reporter for the NPR affiliate in Wichita, Kansas, where her work earned several Kansas Association of Broadcasters awards and a regional Edward R. Murrow award for Excellence in Social Media. Originally from Texas, Nadya has lived and worked in Colorado, Illinois, Washington, D.C.; and North Dakota. She lives in Billings with her cat, Dragon, and dog, Trooper, and enjoys hiking, crocheting, and traveling as often as possible.