As Infection Spreads Nationally, Local Health Officials Prepare for Coronavirus

Although no one has tested positive for the infection in Montana, the state has conducted nearly two-dozen tests for COVID-19, including a “handful” in the Flathead

By Justin Franz
Kalispell Regional Healthcare. Beacon File Photo

Nearly two-dozen people have been tested for COVID-19 in Montana, including a “handful” in Flathead County, but so far no one in the state has tested positive for the infection that is rapidly spreading around the globe.

On March 11, the World Health Organization declared that the outbreak of COVID-19, also known as coronavirus, is a global pandemic, having spread to more than 121,000 people worldwide. There are more than 1,000 cases in the United States. According to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, 21 people have been tested in the state so far. The people tested had symptoms of the infection and recently traveled to an infected area. All tests have come back negative.

A Lake County woman in her 70s who was traveling in Maryland has tested positive for COVID-19 but remains on the East Coast. According to Gov. Steve Bullock, the woman was last in Montana in November 2019, and officials say she did not have the infection when she was in the state.

“Since the case was announced earlier today, public health officials have been working nonstop to learn more about this case and can now confirm the patient did not have coronavirus while she was in Montana,” Bullock said on March 11. “We will continue to monitor the patient in Maryland and remain committed to preparing for coronavirus to reach Montana.”

Health officials in Flathead County have been meeting daily to prepare for if and when the infection comes to Montana, said Kalispell Regional Healthcare Chief Medical Officer Doug Nelson.

Nelson said that every time someone comes to the hospital with symptoms of the infection and has recently traveled to countries experiencing widespread outbreaks, the hospital takes a sample from the back of their mouth and nose and ships it to Helena for testing. Results usually take one to two days.

Nelson said on March 11 that officials hope to be able to do the test locally within a week. If the person does not require hospitalization, he or she is asked to self-quarantine until the results have returned. If they do require hospitalization, they are kept in a negative air pressure room, where the test is initially taken.

Nelson urged people to take precautions like they would to prevent the flu by washing their hands, covering their mouth when coughing and staying home if sick.

Flathead City-County Health Department officials say if people believe they are experiencing symptoms of coronavirus, they should call their medical provider first before going to the hospital.

In some areas around the country where the infection has spread, school has been canceled and businesses are encouraging their employees to work remotely. School hasn’t been canceled locally, but Kalispell Public Schools Superintendent Mark Flatau said the district is in constant contact with the state and local health departments. The district has canceled a high school class trip to Japan that was supposed to take place later this month.

The Special Olympics of Montana’s Glacier Area Winter Games set for March 20 in Whitefish were canceled along with all other training and competitions until March 31.

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