COVID cases in Gallatin County have been falling substantially since mid-November. And if you look at the CDC data for the United States as a whole, daily COVID cases and hospitalizations have been declining for the past 45 days.

Credit: Gallatin Co Health Department

Which begs the question: When do we get to return to normal? When do we get to take off our masks, or two masks that the CDC now recommends? We asked Gallatin County Health Officer Matt Kelley that very question. Here is how we phrased it:

What is the end game with all of this? How low do COVID cases have to fall until we are no longer forced to wear masks? Is it zero cases?

ANSWER: 

"The Board will consider a number of factors, including case numbers but also hospitalizations, mortality, and outbreaks in long term care facilities. We will also be watching what happens with the variant forms of the virus to see what impact they have on disease spread, hospitalizations, and mortality.

It will also be important, I think, to get to a point where everyone has a fair chance at the vaccine.  Currently, thousands of vulnerable Montanans have not had a chance to get the vaccine … so they are at greater risk anytime they are out in public."

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As of Sunday, Gallatin County had only four people hospitalized due to the coronavirus. Nationally, according to COVIDTracking.com, hospitalizations in the last two months have dropped nearly 60%. As of this writing, 99.77% of Montanans are COVID-free. 

That last statistic is why many people feel that masks are less about health and more about social control. Because of the response to COVID people have lost their businesses, jobs, savings, and students have suffered developmentally (some have even lost their lives to suicide) for something that is affecting less than a quarter of one percent of the population in Montana.

If our current conditions (99.77% COVID-free) do not warrant the removal of our mask mandate, when will they ever? Montana's governor said it was time for personal responsibility in dealing with COVID by letting the state mask mandate run out a few weeks ago, our Gallatin County Health Board says it is still not time.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began last March, we've had no one die locally with COVID under the age of 50. To date, over 80% of our 52 COVID deaths in Gallatin County have been in the demographic 70-plus years of age. The CDC says our life expectancy as Americans is 77.8 years

The CDC also says that each COVID death has on average 3.8 other underlying symptoms. Showing this data is not meant to minimize these deaths, but rather to point out their significance. COVID is not ravaging the general public, nor has it from the beginning. The people who are dying from COVID are in a very select group. They are all nearing the end of our life expectancy and they have numerous underlying conditions. CDC data also shows that Americans, regardless of age, are far more likely to die of something other than COVID-19.

So, again, if nearly 100% of Montanans are COVID-free (99.77%), and as the CDC says, we are far more likely to die from something else, why are we still being forced to wear masks to prevent COVID?

As a follow up to the question asked above, we also posed this question: Since COVID cases have been falling since mid-November, are you going to recommend to the Health Board that Gallatin County follow the governor's mask policy? And if not, why? 

We'll circle back with an answer from Matt Kelley on that tomorrow.