As Yellowstone National Park moves closer to releasing its reopening plan, the community next to its busiest entrance is working on boosting its ability to test residents, workers and visitors for the COVID-19 illness.
Health Officer Matt Kelley said Friday that Gallatin County is trying to balance the economic concerns with public health as the U.S. National Park Service decides when and how it will open one of the nation’s most popular destinations.
“From a public health perspective, there’s real concern with the idea of bringing in thousands of visitors from all over the nation, that poses significant disease transmission risks. But also I just want to recognize, not opening the park poses risks,” Kelley said.
Like other gateway communities, West Yellowstone’s economy depends on tourism. The town’s population of 1,300 people balloons to 16,000 per night in the summer.
Shane Grube, the Hebgen Basin Fire District Chief, said West Yellowstone is preparing for the possible influx of COVID-19 cases that could come with increased visitation.
“We’re currently, actively trying to get additional testing set up in the community for, not only our local citizens and summer workers, but for the tourists that will be coming through our area," Grube said.
He said West Yellowstone worked with Community Health Partners and Bozeman Health to develop a plan for a viral triage clinic. They’ve identified a building that would work but need to finalize funding. Grube said he and his team want the clinic ready to go the day Yellowstone reopens, whenever that may be.
He said West Yellowstone is also looking at housing options, including unused rental homes, to spread out seasonal workers and to offer space to people who need to isolate or quarantine.
On Thursday, Gallatin County confirmed two COVID-19 cases in West Yellowstone, the first for the gateway community. Health Officer Kelley said the two family members had been traveling out-of-state.
A Montana directive requiring out-of-state visitors to self-quarantine for two weeks is still in effect. Wyoming’s order expired Friday.