Bozeman and Covid-19. Why Bozeman's appeal turned this Southwest Montana town into the epicenter of Montana's health crisis.

Post Date: Mar 31, 2020

The novel coronavirus, causing an infection known as Covid-19 is all we've heard about recently. The impact the virus is having on Bozeman and it's surrounding area is exponential in comparison to other Montana municipalities. Find out why this area seeing more infections than other areas of the state.

Bozeman, Gallatin County’s seat, is sitting at the epicenter of Montana’s Covid-19 outbreak. Montana has confirmed cases numbering 185 at 8:00am on Tuesday, March 31 and the impact from this global pandemic is something this little hamlet of Southwest Montana can’t ignore. Almost 40% of those Montana cases reside in the Bozeman area.

There are a number of issues that have put the bullseye on the Gallatin Valley. The timing of spring break in this college town in conjunction with this pandemic was not ideal. Although Governor Steve Bullock had declared a state of emergency on March 12, it wasn’t on our doorstep and didn’t seem too terribly concerning to most residents. In his public address he stated, “Now is the time to plan, not to panic”. A lot of Southwest Montana residents had only a vague understanding of what the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) was doing in other countries and other areas of the US.

Although President Trump had released $50 million in federal funds and declared a state of emergency on that Friday, March 14, as well as banning travel to and from 26 European countries, Montana State University and most of the public schools in our area had dictated March 16-20, 2020 would be the Bozeman area's spring break.  Us hardworking Montanans don’t like to give up our vacations. Many families here as well as college students attending MSU had previously made plans to enjoy a bit of travel to wonderful destinations after our long winter season. Many others had chosen our beautiful area to visit for their own spring getaways.

Travelers came and went. Between March 14 - 22 this is what happened elsewhere. On March 14, New York City had reported a total of 185 Covid-19 patients. By March 22, the end of the official week of our spring break, they reported a daily (Sunday, March 22 only) increase of 2,422 cases, bringing their total cases to date to 8,115. In Italy, a country that saw the impact much sooner than anywhere in the US, over the same time period those numbers went from a total of 21,157 positive cases on March 14 to 59,138 on March 22.

In Montana, by the beginning of spring break, the whole state had only seen a total of 6 cases. Day one saw 2 patients and day two saw an additional 2. Of the first four, two had traveled internationally and the other two came to Montana from Washington State. The following day 2 additional cases had been detected in people that attended the Board of Regents meeting in Dillon which occurred on March 5. What was happening wasn’t tangible to us yet. Moving into that week national authorities and medical experts had begun to realize the impact this pandemic was going to have and how important public education and social distancing would become. By the end of spring break week Montana would have officially logged 34 cases. Almost one third of those had popped up in Gallatin County. School closures and visits to nursing homes had been cut off followed by church organizations voluntarily closing their doors and bars and restaurants being shut down.

What makes this virus so insidious is that you can have the virus and be shedding cells, days before you show any symptoms or without ever showing signs of an infection at all.  According to WebMd.com if someone infected comes in contact with wood furniture the virus can stay alive for 4 days, on metal it can survive up to 5. According to reports the virus was detected 17 days after infected passengers disembarked the cruise ship Grand Princess. 

Cases continued to rise. A Stay-at-Home order was issued by Governor Bullock on Thursday, March 26 going into effect at 12:01am on March 28 and being valid through April 10. All non-essential businesses have been ordered to close, public gatherings are prohibited (up to 10 people max with a 6 feet separation rule enforced) and residents have been told to only venture outside their homes for essential activities. If people make a decision to ignore these warnings there can be legal and financial repercussions. 

Upon learning that vacation rental requests had skyrocketed in recent weeks, most likely due to outside residents seeing our state as a great place to quarantine, Bullock requested that those that don’t live here "keep away" from Montana while we are under the Stay-at-Home order. Governor Bullock has also now issued a 14-day self-quarantine period for anyone who is traveling into Montana as well as those returning home to our state. Distancing is required to stop this spread. 

Although 80% of infections are mild, the other 20% are so severe that we should all be very, very concerned. Symptoms include a dry cough, a fever, and sore throat and possibly gastrointestinal symptoms including a lack of appetite. Oddly enough this virus can also make you temporarily lose your sense of smell and taste. The response to this virus prompts individual’s immune systems to flood their lungs with white blood cells that are produced to fight infection. This lymphocytic pneumonia is wreaking havoc on our healthcare systems in areas that have been hardest hit. Ventilators can sometimes push oxygen into the lungs of patients struggling to breathe long enough to allow them to recover, although sometimes that isn’t even enough. With the numbers of infections forecast to continue to rise sharply, the number of ventilators available becomes the decisive factor in how many patients can survive this white cell tsunami. Collateral damage of this horrible virus is that those patients that will perish will do so without their loved ones by their side. Keeping people safe means separation, even at the end of life.

We know the death toll will continue to rise but by adhering to the measures our public officials and medical experts have given us as guidelines, we can absolutely save lives. Every pandemic has a bell curve. The rate at which infections occur over time and exponentially grow is charted and at the end of the pandemic surge, a bell is formed. The goal of stay-at-home orders, essential business only mandates, self-quarantine guidelines and medical best practices is to flatten that bell curve lessening the number of total cases. In doing your part to stay home as much as possible, keep your children at home and only take essential outings for necessities. If you must go to the grocery store, plan ahead, only do it once per week at most and do it alone with one shopper and one cart. Avoid exposure for those essential workers risking their lives for you and your family. Use hand sanitizer regularly, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds regularly and stop touching your face. Wipe down frequently used surfaces with disinfectant regularly and this includes your phone. 

This too shall pass and the damage it will cause is directly dependent on whether or not you and I choose to do our part.