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Health Officials Worry Independence Day Gatherings Could Accelerate Coronavirus Spread

A firework
Piliss/FLICKR (CC-BY-2.0)
A firework

Montana officials announced 67 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, breaking the state’s record for the most new cases in a single day. Health officials worry large gatherings for the Fourth of July could accelerate the spread of the novel coronavirus.

While Montana maintains one of the lowest rates of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the U.S., Governor Steve Bullock said on a press call Thursday that he's concerned. Montana crossed the 1,000 total case mark this week.

"Our biggest problem hasn’t been out-of-staters visiting Montanan [sic]; it’s Montanans not taking all the steps we need to be doing to limit the transmission of COVID-19," Bullock said.

He mentioned six weddings that led to at least two dozen people getting COVID-19. Yellowstone and Gallatin counties have traced 15 cases to several bars.

State, city and county health officials have increased calls in recent days for residents to wear masks in public.

Gallatin County Health Officer Matt Kelley said during a press conference Wednesday that the county’s seven day rolling average for new cases was back to where it was in late March and early April.

"Prior to last week, we were finding cases within a social group of young people who frequented bars and parties together. More recently this week, we found cases in multiple workplace settings, including people who work in construction, the tourism industry and in other settings," Kelley said.

As of Thursday morning, Gallatin County reported 46 active cases of COVID-19, the second highest in the state, following Yellowstone. Kelley said younger people are catching the disease.

"During the month of March, the median age of people diagnosed with the disease in Gallatin County was 44 years of age. That median age in May and June has dropped to just over 28 years of age."

He said most of the cases tied to out-of-state travel aren't the classic tourists who come for one week. Rather, they’re people who are visiting family in Montana or live here seasonally.

Kelley urged people to limit group gatherings as much as possible during the Fourth of July weekend. He said those who meet up with people should do so outside, maintain six feet of distance from one another and refrain from sharing food or utensils.

He said one of the challenges with the novel coronavirus is its insidious nature.

"We do not yet totally understand how it spreads, and we cannot predict who will have mild symptoms and who will end up much sicker and maybe even become hospitalized. So while it is true that many who contract the disease suffer mild symptoms, it is also true that 125,000 Americans have died from the virus in four months," Kelley said.