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Coronavirus fears impacting Flathead Valley trade industry

arborist Tyler Smith
Posted at 3:27 PM, Mar 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-04 13:26:58-05

KALISPELL — Coronavirus fears have caused a run of protective masks, so much so that it's tough to find any left on store shelves -- and the shortage is now affecting certain trade industries in the Flathead Valley.

Arborist Tyler Smith told MTN News that he noticed recently that all dust masks in the area were completely sold out -- and the masks are vital to keeping him safe on the job.

"Pacific Yew puts off toxins. If you eat it, it'll kill you," explained Smith. "The only part of the plant that's not toxic is the skin of the berries."

"And so for safety reasons, cutting them and everything, if we were to accidentally get sawdust in our mouths or ingest some of it, it'll make you sick," he added.

He told MTN News that he believes all of the masks were purchased by those afraid of contracting coronavirus.

Not having access to this vital piece of equipment cost Smith precious time on the job. He says he’s had to spend an hour driving around the Flathead Valley trying to find masks.

"We spent almost an hour trying to find masks the other day. And so, that's an hour that people are sitting around doing nothing on the job site," said Smith.

Kalispell Regional Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Doug Nelson told MTN News that the dust masks aren't even the correct type of mask to use in viral cases.

"There's a whole bunch of different types of industrial masks that are used for painting and other industrial applications,' said Dr. Nelson.

"They vary in their ability to filter out virus particles which are very small," he added.

Dr. Nelson explained that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend healthy people even wear masks.

"There's no evidence, scientific evidence that that helps prevent the infection," said Dr. Nelson.

Dr. Nelson does recommend that people wash their hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds and keep their hands away from their faces and mouths.

He also is reminding the public that KRMC does not provide masks for the public to purchase and notes the shortage for various types of masks is being seen across the country.

While health officials in Washington State reported on Tuesday that nine people have died from coronavirus, no cases have been detected in Montana.

You can click here for updated information related to coronavirus from the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS).

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has more information about coronavirus on their website, including the following:


CDC is responding to an outbreak of respiratory disease caused by a novel (new) coronavirus that was first detected in China and which has now been detected in 60 locations internationally, including in the United States. The virus has been named “SARS-CoV-2” and the disease it causes has been named “coronavirus disease 2019” (abbreviated “COVID-19”).

On January 30, 2020, the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concernexternal icon” (PHEIC). On January 31, 2020, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II declared a public health emergency (PHE) for the United States to aid the nation’s healthcare community in responding to COVID-19.

Source and Spread of the Virus

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in people and many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats. Rarely, animal coronaviruses can infect people and then spread between people such as with MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV, and now with this new virus (named SARS-CoV-2).

The SARS-CoV-2 virus is a betacoronavirus, like MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV. All three of these viruses have their origins in bats. The sequences from U.S. patients are similar to the one that China initially posted, suggesting a likely single, recent emergence of this virus from an animal reservoir.

Early on, many of the patients at the epicenter of the outbreak in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China had some link to a large seafood and live animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread. Later, a growing number of patients reportedly did not have exposure to animal markets, indicating person-to-person spread. Person-to-person spread was subsequently reported outside Hubei and in countries outside China, including in the United States. Some international destinations now have apparent community spread with the virus that causes COVID-19, meaning some people have been infected who are not sure how or where they became infected. Learn what is known about the spread of newly emerged coronaviruses.