Coronavirus hits Montana; governor closes schools

by The Associated Press and
| March 19, 2020 10:05 AM

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock on Sunday ordered public schools closed, nursing home visits drastically cut and recommended that public gatherings be limited to fewer than 50 people.

Bullock said in a statement the extraordinary measures are being taken in an effort to head off the coronavirus outbreak.

Friday, Montana became one of the last states to have a positive case of the virus, and there were six known cases in the state as of Sunday.

Bullock declared a state of emergency on Friday.

“Social distancing is one of the most important primary protective measures to flatten the curve of this virus,” Bullock said in a statement. “I cannot underscore the seriousness of following these measures to help our neighbors, friends, and families.”

There are six positive cases in the counties of Missoula, Gallatin, Yellowstone, Silver Bow and Lewis and Clark.

• The two Missoula cases include a woman in her 30s and a man in his 50s.

• The Gallatin patient is a male in their 40s.

• The Yellowstone patient is a female in their 50s.

• The Silver Bow patient is a male in their 50s.

• The Lewis and Clark patient is a male in their 50s.

Another case included a part-time Montana resident who was diagnosed with the virus in Maryland. The person has not been in Montana since November 2019 and did not acquire the disease in Montana.

The vast majority of people infected recover. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three weeks to six weeks to recover.

The school closure went effect Monday and will last until March 27.

In Sanders County, at Clark Fork Valley Hospital, it is working on some measures meant to help the public and current patients.

“We are establishing a nurse hotline for advice and a clinic dedicated to respiratory illness located at the hospital,” Dr. Gregory Hanson, Hospital CEO, said in a press release. “Details of accessing both will follow when in place.

“We have limited visitation at the hospital and long term care. No visitation is allowed in long term care (nursing home) so we will establish video capability for friends and family members to “see” their loved ones.”

According to information from the hospital, only a single visitor at any one time will be allowed in the hospital and that person must be healthy and at least 17 years old.

“When you enter the hospital or any of the clinics we operate you will need to complete a questionnaire that we will use to determine how we can best serve you and protect others if need be.”

Schools are making arrangements to continue serving free meals to students who need them and make contingency plans for remote learning and other services if the break is extended.

The governor said Montana nursing homes will limit visitation to only certain compassionate care situations, such as end-of-life-care, and those people will be screened before being allowed entry.

Bullock also made a series of recommendations for social distancing, including capping public gatherings to 50 people. People 60 or older or with chronic health conditions shouldn’t participate in any public gatherings, especially those with more than 20 people, he said.

Parents should also avoid placing children into the care of people who are over 60.

Most people will recover on their own, but some people can develop pneumonia and may require medical care or hospitalization.

It is particularly hazardous for the elderly population who have lung issues or compromised immune systems.

Clark Fork Valley Hospital, Sanders County Emergency Management and Sanders County Public Health are working together and are prepared in the event it should spread to Montana and particularly to Sanders County.

County and hospital officials offered the following tips on how its citizens can help protect themselves and the community.

Basic preventive actions to help prevent the spread of any viruses are advised, and include:

• Washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use and alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

• Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth.

• Stay home if you are sick and avoid close contact with people who are sick; limit exposure to public gathering places such as events, stores, schools, etc.

• Cover your cough with crook of your arm or use a tissue.

• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

The CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases including COVID-19. Facemasks should be worn by people who show symptoms to help prevent the spread of the disease to others.

If you are experiencing symptoms such as a cough, fever, or shortness of breath, call your healthcare provider or emergency room to make arrangements to be seen and be sure to mention any recent travel or exposure to people who have traveled.

Avoid visiting either residents in long term care or patients in the hospital if you are suffering flu-like symptoms, have traveled or been around those who traveled or been in a community with active infection.