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How coronavirus testing works in Missoula County

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Posted at 7:24 AM, Mar 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-27 09:25:45-04

MISSOULA — As more and more people across Montana test positive for coronavirus (COVID-19), you might start to wonder what that testing protocol looks like.

If you or someone you know begins showing signs of the virus, here’s what you need to know.

First off, if you think you’re showing sings of the coronavirus -- such as a fever over 100.4, shortness of breath or a cough -- contact your healthcare provider.

Clinicians should use their judgment to determine if a patient has signs and symptoms compatible with COVID-19, and if that’s the case, those healthcare providers have been instructed to notify the Health Department.

At that time the patient will be considered a suspect case, and their tests will be sent to a laboratory to confirm whether they have COVID-19.

It’s important to note that the state lab in Helena is no longer the only laboratory receiving tests from Montana.

Tests can now be sent to private labs in other parts of the country, which explains the delay in results as patients now have to account for shipping time.

While patients and healthcare providers wait for those results, the health department takes precaution, and acts as if those results are positive.

“We keep track of that person while their test is being shipped and run, and we discontinue our monitoring of that person when we have confirmation that that test is negative,” said Missoula Health Officer Ellen Leahy, adding, “Most of the tests are negative, but we treat them as possibly contagious and keep track of them through our nursing team."

While you wait for your test results to return, the Missoula City-County Health Department asks that you stay home and follow social distancing protocol.