GREAT FALLS – Representatives of Great Falls College (GFC-MSU) released a statement via email on Friday afternoon inaccurately notifying all students that individuals on campus had been exposed to measles at an off-campus site.
Following further communication with the Cascade City-County Health Department (CCHD), the statement has been retracted.
“We’ve actually issued a full retraction of the statement,” GFC-MSU Communications Officer Lewis Card told MTN News. “It was determined that the incident that we were aware of was tested negatively.”
Card continued, “We issued the information based on information that we had. We were in a position where we were trying to make sure that we were providing the safest atmosphere for our students and staff.”
“We are working with the City-County Health Department with communications moving forward,” Card added.
“While the level of exposure […] for faculty, staff and students on this campus cannot be measured at this time,” wrote Chief Student Affairs and Student Resource Officer Mary Kay Bonilla in the initial, inaccurate email. “We felt it best to notify the campus community.”
Bonilla could not be reached immediately for comment Saturday morning.
MTN News was notified of the first development by a student— Marcy Poitra— at Great Falls College, who posted about the school-wide email to Facebook Friday afternoon.
The Cascade City-County Health Department (CCHD) sought to quell fears on Friday, writing on social media, “There may be some misinformation floating around about measles. But, CCHD is here to provide up to date information. Including the fact that to date, no cases of measles have been confirmed in Cascade County!”
MTN News reported on the warnings of Lewis and Clark County and Missoula public health officials to their respective communities on February 10. The only confirmed cases of measles in the United States this year— via the Montana Department of Health and Human Services— were found in the states of New York, Washington, Portland, and Texas.
On February 11, CCHD issued a press release warning the community of Great Falls to take extra precautions against contracting measles. “In response to the recently publicized measles outbreaks in New York and Washington State, the Cascade City-County Health Department would like to reassure residents that they can take steps to protect themselves, their families, and the community from this potentially serious and very easily spread illness.”
“Measles is truly a highly infectious disease,” the statement said. “If someone who has measles has been in a specific location (such as a doctor’s office), that area is considered to be highly contaminated.”
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that individuals exposed to measles should “immediately call [a] doctor.” Symptoms include “high fever, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes.” As the virus worsens, by two or three days post-exposure, white spots will begin to develop near the back of the throat. At five days out, a red skin rash forms, beginning on “the face at the hairline and spread[ing] downward,” and triggering a spike in fever.
The last time a measles case was confirmed in Montana was 1990.
According to the Montana Department of Health and Human Services (DPHHS), “measles can cause serious health complications, such as pneumonia or encephalitis, and even death.” Montana DPHHS notes that “children younger than 5 years of age” and “adults older than 20 years of age” are especially susceptible to the measles virus.
Attached below is the entirety of the initial email from Bonilla to students at Great Falls College. For added clarity, it should be reiterated that this email contains inaccurate information:
It has come to our attention that an individual or individuals on our campus have been exposed to measles at an off-campus site. While the level of exposure is for faculty, staff and students on this campus cannot be measured at this time, we felt it was best to notify the campus community.
The Center for Disease Control website https://www.cdc.gov/measles/about/faqs.html provides good fact-based information regarding signs, symptoms, transmission, and frequently asked questions.
If you have questions please contact your doctor or health care provider.
Mary Kay Bonilla, MPA
CCP, SHRM-SCP, SPHR
Chief Student Affairs and Human Resources Officer