Although COVID-19 may seem like old news, there is currently an alarming rate of cases and hospitalizations throughout Montana. The Gallatin City-Council Health Department announced during its press conference on Friday, Sept. 3, that Montana had 6,086 active cases of SARS-CoV-2 —the number of active cases in the state having more than doubled in the past two weeks. Five more Gallatin County residents have also died from the disease in the past two weeks, making the countywide COVID-19 death total 69 and the statewide total 1,811 as of Friday, Sept. 3.

As the academic year begins, Gallatin County is seeing five times the rate of community transmission than it was in September of 2020, with at least one active COVID-19 case at multiple elementary, middle and high schools, according to the health department’s weekly COVID-19 surveillance report. MSU had a total of 49 active cases as of Thursday, Sept. 2.

“When we look at the number of cases last year in comparison to this year, we need to keep in mind the level of community transmission and the contagiousness of the delta variant,” Lori Christenson, Gallatin City-County Health Officer, said. “We are in a different type of pandemic now in terms of the delta variant.”

During the press call, Kallie Kujawa, Bozeman Health COVID-19 Incident Command Lead, stressed the importance of being vaccinated. “In the month of August we had 62 COVID-19 hospitalized patients,” Kujawa said. “Of the total only 12 were vaccinated. All the COVID-19 positive patients in the ICU that have required mechanical ventilation have been unvaccinated.”

A snapshot of hospital bed capacity from the Department of Public Health and Human Services revealed that Bozeman Health had reached more than 90% capacity, with only seven beds available as of Monday, Aug. 30. After two days of classes and disregard for the need to wear face masks, MSU President Waded Cruzado addressed the issue in an email stating that masks are required in every classroom, laboratory, studio and will remain in effect through Friday, Oct. 1, when the university will revisit the requirement. “Since we are mindful of the fact that there is only one comprehensive hospital facility to meet the medical needs of Gallatin County and its vicinity, at this point the most straightforward way to fulfill our academic obligations at Montana State University is to require face masks in every instructional space inside buildings on campus,” Cruzado said in her email.

In partnership with the health department, MSU will set up a mobile vaccine clinic outside Montana Hall on Friday, Sept. 10, from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. Students, faculty and staff will be able to walk up to the clinic and receive their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, which was fully approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday, Aug. 23. The mobile clinic will return three weeks later, on Friday, Oct. 1, to administer the second dose. Once vaccinated, students are eligible to enter the MSU Vaccination Sweepstakes. Students can enter the sweepstakes by visiting Drawings are held weekly until Thursday, Dec. 16. Students are eligible to win prizes such as $5,000 tuition assistance awards, a season ski pass and other various prizes.

Regardless of vaccination status, Christenson reminded individuals to wear a mask, social distance when possible, stay home and get tested if you’re becoming sick. 

“Speaking on behalf of our health department staff and our entire team here, I really want to acknowledge and thank our health care workers,” Christenson said. “It’s been well over a year of dealing with highly emotional situations from patients, their families, the community and we want you to know that we still see your daily activities and your daily sacrifices, and we appreciate you.”

“Help keep our health care workers safe and healthy, help keep our community healthy, help keep yourself healthy,” Kujawa said as she concluded her talk.