GREAT FALLS — Should you actually wait five days to get tested for COVID-19 if you’re worried about potential exposure from a gathering? When will the state’s COVID-19 numbers return to normal after a backlog due to the Thanksgiving holiday? How do our public health officials feel about the recent news regarding a COVID-19 vaccine that could be coming in a matter of weeks?
All of these are questions that have been floating around in recent days, so we turned to Cascade City-County Health Officer Trisha Gardner to find some answers.
How has case reporting been affected by the Thanksgiving holiday in Cascade County? Are we still catching up on reported cases?
Trisha: We didn't have as many people working on Thanksgiving Day. We did still have a couple people working, but that definitely did impact our numbers as well. So, we'll be seeing a little higher numbers probably tomorrow (Tuesday) in addition, because we’re back to full staff. It's always a balancing act and I think the state was dealing with it and everywhere was; when you're trying to make sure you're not burning out the staff that you do have and building in some breaks for them. We still are working all weekend and everything. So, we did have some numbers showing up over the weekends, but I anticipate that we'll see some more coming in this weekend or early this week. The other factor in that the state lab didn't run on Thanksgiving Day.
There have been reports and rumors that, if people traveled or gathered for Thanksgiving and they want to get tested, they should wait until at least five days after the holiday to take a test. Is that true?
Trisha: Yeah, it's the incubation period. So, we know that the virus doesn't necessarily show up until a couple of days after you've come into contact with it. So, the tests will likely come back negative if you went right away and tested. Waiting a few days….the likelihood that you'll have a viral load that's detectable when you do test goes up. So yeah, waiting a couple of days would be advised.
The news of a vaccine to protect people against COVID-19 sounds promising, how do you feel about what we’ve heard so far?
Trisha: I think that it’s an inspiring thing. I think that gives people some hope and some light at the end of the tunnel. However, there's still a lot that we don't know about. Do you know how much we'll get and when we'll get it? There's still a lot of unknowns at this point. So, I'm cautiously optimistic, I guess I'll put it that way as to how much we'll be able to have and how soon. But it will make a difference. Getting that out to the people and getting people immunized will make an overall difference in this pandemic.
Dr. Anthony Fauci has said that an “overwhelming majority” of Americans need to get the vaccine for it to be effective. Is that true?
Trisha: In terms of everybody catching it and becoming immune, with a vaccine, you don't have to catch it to get that immunity. So, (the vaccine) ultimately is a far safer alternative to catching the virus and having to go through the disease process to build up that. The more people that you have immunized and that are immune to something, the fewer people it has to spread throughout and within. So, the larger percentage of the population you have immunized, the less chance it has to spread through that population.”
Can we take our masks off as soon as we get the vaccine?
Trisha: No. No vaccine is 100%. Even when we talk about vaccinating against everything, and that's why it's so important to have so much of our population vaccinated, because it doesn't provide absolute 100% guarantee that you won't get it. It's still going to be important that, at least for a period of time, we're following all of those other prevention measures that we still know about. Some of that's just going to be as we learn more about the immunization and the protection that offers the longevity of that protection and how all of that goes. The efficacy that they're showing for both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are very good. They're over 90%. Having said that, that's still not 100 percent. Even if I get vaccinated, there's still a chance that I could be infected and therefore be infecting other people.
The TSA said that last Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, was the busiest air travel day since the pandemic began. Is there concern that people ignored the CDC’s recommendation against traveling this Thanksgiving, and will do so again this Christmas, bringing more positive cases to Cascade County and the surrounding areas?
Trisha: I think we're anticipating that there will be a little bit of a spike here locally, just as I anticipate we'll see at other places. The more interaction that you're having with people that you aren't around on a regular basis, the more likely it is to that this will spread. People traveling out of state, out of county, out of town; those all present new opportunities for that virus to be introduced into their lives.
How has the Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services communicated with the Cascade City-County Health Department about their COVID-19 Vaccination Plan?
Trisha: We have weekly calls with the State Health Department about that. In fact, I think it's every Wednesday that we'll be participating in and looking at that. We also have some previous experience with distribution of vaccine. If we look back in history, H1N1 Influenza year in 2009, we did something similar at that time. So, it's taking that tiered approach and addressing those people like health care workers, first responders at first, and then rolling it out to those that are most vulnerable and continuing down that road as it's available.
Do you have questions about COVID-19 in Montana or the state’s COVID-19 vaccination plan? Email them to Matt.Holzapfel@krtv.com, and we’ll try to get answers.