Forging the path ahead

Area leaders note commendable and unprecedented collaboration during crisis

Community representatives from across Gallatin County spoke to unprecedented partnership and collaboration during the COVID-19 crisis.

Representatives from local governments, the health sector, school districts and Montana State University provided updates during the Gallatin County Community Briefing Friday morning.

“As daunting as the challenges are ahead we are still in the middle of this pandemic. I'm proud of our community, proud of this response,” Gallatin City-County Health Department officer Matt Kelley said. He noted that for every person in a visible position of leadership “legions of people” are standing behind them – people nobody ever hears about.

In all the forward movement of reopening, Kelley and Bozeman Health representatives – incident command lead Kallie Kujawa and and Dr. Mark Williams emphasized that continued vigilance by the community in terms of social distancing, hand hygiene and wearing masks will be essential moving forward. Williams pointed-out that Bozeman Health is prepared to deal with surges until the end of the year and beyond, continues to build up the supply of personal protective equipment and is increasing testing capabilities. Kujawa said daily meetings and debriefs are occurring with incident command teams and coordination meetings are taking place with other teams throughout the state.

Gallatin County Commissioner Joe Skinner as well as Big Sky Resort Area District (Resort Tax) chairman Kevin Germain spoke about Big Sky’s inclusion in the expansion of viral testing of wastewater. West Yellowstone will likely also be involved. Germain noted that Resort Tax just contributed $80,000 to that testing effort.

“West Yellowstone and Big Sky are huge economic drivers in the county, we recognize that,” Skinner said.

Gallatin County Clerk & Recorder Eric Semerad spoke of the challenges faced with holding elections during a pandemic due to concerns for staff safety and social distancing. This last election had a response over 40% he said. Over 67,000 ballots were mailed out on May 8 and contain prepaid envelopes to encourage returning the ballots by mail in compliance with social distancing. He encourages voters to seal those envelopes with tape rather than lick the envelopes – as an added precaution for staff and volunteers.

“Not having polling places is very inconvenient,” he said, but pointed-out that drive-through ballot drop offs will be available at polling places.

Germain discussed the $2 million raised by the community foundations for health and social needs. He also noted that since Big Sky is unincorporated and does not have a town council or a mayor, Resort Tax started serving as coordinator. Coordination meetings with other community leaders continue.

“We want to make sure that when we reopen it is safe,” he said.

Shane Grube, Chief of the Hebgen Basin Fire District in West Yellowstone spoke about the responsibility of being a gateway community to Yellowstone National Park. The community not only is trying to procure additional testing for local citizens and summer workers, but also for tourists coming through the area.

“We are going to have to secure places to house folks if we find issues,” he said. Community partners are working to achieve that and working on the funding aspect to make it happen.

Mike Becker, spokesman for Montana State University discussed how it is an interesting time to graduate – as 2020 graduates are commemorating their accomplishments with virtual commencement celebrations. He also emphasized commendable collaboration and open lines of communication throughout Gallatin County. They are formulating the plan for the 2020-2021 academic year with the assistance of officials from across the board.

“We couldn’t be prouder to be not only a partner, but also a beneficiary,” he said.

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