For those of us old enough to remember or to watch reruns of the 1950s classic Dragnet, we can easily recall Sgt. Friday’s quote, “Just the facts, ma’am.” That quote became locked into America’s lexicon, highlighting a simple ask of all of us to be honest with each other. The facts unfolding before us regarding COVID-19 are no different.
The risks are real. Epidemiologists have estimated the virus will attack 30 to 40 percent of us, and five percent of those cases will be severe enough to require hospitalization. Left unmitigated, that could equate to 15,000-20,000 hospitalizations in Montana. For a state with just shy of 2,000 hospital beds and approximately 200 ICU beds, it becomes clear why social distancing strategies to slow down the spread can save lives. In the face of global shortages for health care supplies, it conserves our extremely limited resources for those who need life-saving treatment. It may be for a 65-year-old battling coronavirus, a 16-year old with appendicitis or a 6-month-old fighting RSV.
Medical leaders and public health officials in Montana are providing guidance to political leaders at all levels of government on the risks of coronavirus. These experts are advising proven, evidence-based strategies to help contain COVID-19. They also have made clear the risks of doing nothing.
Recently, the Montana Hospital Association asked Gov. Steve Bullock to issue a stay-at-home order to stop the virus’ spread and give public health and our hospitals a fighting chance to defeat the virus. After considerable consultation with public health, business and political leaders, the governor moved decisively to thwart the spread of COVID-19 and issued his stay-at-home directive. Just days later, Gov. Bullock took another bold step to protect Montanans: a 14-day quarantine on travelers, in part to stop those fleeing stay-at-home directives in other states from coming to Montana and further spreading the virus across our state.
Measures like these, coupled with the tireless hours spent by public health and emergency management officials, can help to contain the disease – but only if each one of us does our part.
Health care workers statewide are answering the call. They are working to protect the health of their patients in spite of the risks of COVID-19 to themselves and their own families. We are fortunate to have dedicated, selfless professionals – nurses, physicians, first responders, environmental care workers, respiratory therapists and others – fighting a battle that could lead to more deaths than any modern war our country has fought.
Everyday Montanans also have a critical role to play. At this time, there is no more important offer of assistance you can extend to your family and friends than to honor the stay-at-home directive. Our parents, grandparents and children are depending on all of us to heed the advice of medical experts. With no cure in sight, the most effective strategy is to keep our distance – for our loved ones, neighbors and ourselves. Together we can #beatCOVID19inMT.
Rich Rasmussen is President and CEO of the Montana Hospital Association, a nonprofit organization with more than 80 members providing the full spectrum of health care services.
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