The Flathead County Commission has designated Flathead City-County Public Health Officer Hillary Hanson as the “incident commander” to lead the local response to the coronavirus pandemic and could declare a state of emergency as early as next week as a tool to access funding.
The commission voted unanimously on Friday morning to appoint Hanson as the incident commander, a move similar to how state and local governments respond to natural disasters, likes wildfires. The designation came the day after Gov. Steve Bullock announced a statewide state of emergency, although there have been no confirmed cases of the infection in Montana.
“Now is the time to plan, not to panic. Our state has been preparing for coronavirus to come to Montana and we will be prepared to respond all along the way,” Bullock said in a March 12 statement. “Just like we do when any challenging situation hits our communities, we stick together to make sure that we mitigate the impact, that we have an appropriate response, and that we slow the spread.”
The emergency order allows the governor to direct a coordinated response to an outbreak of communicable disease. This includes mobilizing all available state resources, such as emergency funds or personnel from the National Guard. It also allows the governor to take additional steps as warranted.
On Friday morning, Hanson said she would likely ask that commission to declare a state of emergency next week, which would allow the health department to access state, local and federal emergency funding to hiring additional nurses, mostly to answer questions from the public. Hanson said getting quality information to the public would be one of her first priorities.
Hanson was expected to meet with all local school superintendents on Friday morning to discuss what might happen should the infection arrive in the area and schools need to be closed. No local schools have been closed, although the Kalispell School District has already canceled a class trip to Japan that was supposed to take place over spring break.
If people want more information about the impacts of coronavirus in Flathead County, they are encouraged to call a newly established information line at (406) 751-8188 or visit https://flatheadhealth.org/novel-coronavirus-covid-19/.