99.87% of Gallatin County residents are currently COVID-free. With a vaccine now available and nearly 100% of Montanans already COVID-free (99.85%), isn't it time for our leaders to begin promoting healthy lifestyles over mask mandates? Isn't it time to stop treating Gallatin County residents as if 100% of us are sick when the data clearly shows that it's the exact opposite?

Yes, it's tragic that people have lost their lives to a virus, but isn't it also just as tragic that kids have lost their lives to suicide because of COVID-induced anxiety? An anxiety that has been thrust on them by separating them from their friends and forcing them to cover half their face? A November Washington Post article says that when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked young adults if they had thought about killing themselves in the past 30 days, 1 in 4 said they had. That number was much lower pre-pandemic.

And what about the fear factor our COVID-response has instilled in our children. A fear that will be deeply engrained in their psyche over a virus that, according to Johns Hopkins, has a mortality rate of 2.5%. And note that the CDC estimates this percentage would be far lower if it included people who are infected but unaware. We'll leave the educational issues our children are burdened with because of our COVID-response for another article.

How about the number of people who will die of cancer because they did not get early detection of their disease because of COVID restrictions or they were just scared to leave their house? Are those lives not to be mourned? How about the thousands of people who will die early from heart disease due to the stress COVID has brought on our society? I may be one of them. And what about those who are in long-term care facilities, who have not died from COVID but loneliness because they were forced to be separated from their families?  Should we not weep over those deaths, too, as we have for those who died with COVID?

What about the business owners and their families who have lost their businesses and their savings due to COVID-imposed lockdowns and restrictions? Do their lives not count?

Why does it seem that many only give significance to the people who have died with COVID and not to all the other people who have died as a result of the policies implemented to fight COVID? We didn't even get into the numbers that show drug overdoses are at an all-time high, and that alcohol abuse and domestic abuse are also on the rise.

According to the latest COVID-19 data from the Montana Health Department, Montanans (based on active cases) are 99.85% COVID-free*. That number is higher than last week and higher than the week before.

The last posted 7-Day rolling average of new COVID cases in Gallatin County is 31.9. That is down from 186 cases when COVID peaked in the county on November 17, 2020. Today we sit at four hospitalizations due to the coronavirus. Nationally, all the key COVID metrics--hospitalizations, daily cases, and COVID deaths--have been falling dramatically since the beginning of the year.

So, again, why are we still being forced to wear masks in Gallatin County despite the Governor lifting the state mask mandate? Especially when other counties who have had a far tougher time with COVID than we have, are now following the Governor's mask policy of personal responsibility?

Take Yellowstone County as an example. Yellowstone has been the hardest-hit county in all of Montana when it comes to COVID. They've had the most cases (16,217) and most deaths (235). To put that into context, Yellowstone County has seen 4x more COVID-related deaths than Gallatin County despite not even being close to 4x larger in population. Yellowstone County is following the governor's mask policy, why aren't we in Gallatin County?

The Gallatin County Health Board has told us repeatedly they are following the science. Does that mean that the Yellowstone County Health Board isn't following the science?

We reached out to the Yellowstone County Health Department and received the following statement from their public information officer Barbara Schneeman. She said, "With respect to mask mandates, throughout the pandemic, Yellowstone County has followed the governors’ leads – both the former and current governor."

Why is Gallatin County not following Governor Gianforte's lead? And does a 99.87% success rate against COVID still constitute a state emergency?

Again, what is success in this fight against COVID? We may never wipe out COVID completely. Dr. Fauci told Congress that this past summer. So, if that's true, and 99.87% success is not good enough, does that mean that our unelected health board wants to keep us shut down and masked up forever?

*Number of active COVID cases divided by population. Population numbers based on 2019 U.S. Census estimates.

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