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Missoula health officials respond to first "presumptive" coronavirus cases

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Posted at 6:04 PM, Mar 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-16 09:25:54-04

MISSOULA — Health officials announced over the weekend that two "presumptive" coronavirus cases had been reported in Missoula County.

Local health officials held a press conference on Sunday morning to address the pandemic’s spread into our area.

“We are all theoretically susceptible, we will have more cases, and it will get more alarming. We’re as prepared as we can be for that, but it’s not all or nothing," Missoula City-County Health Officer Ellen Leahy said.

Now that coronavirus has apparently arrived in Missoula County local health officials are acting fast.

VIDEO: Health officials discuss Missoula County coronavirus case

“People that tested positive will be isolated until they receive two negative test results, and the contacts will be isolated and quarantined in their homes for 14 days and monitored for symptoms,” said Missoula County COVID-19 Incident Response Commander Cindy Farr.

In a press release sent out Saturday night, the Commissioner of Higher Education, Clayton Christian, informed the public that he had tested presumptive positive for COVID-19. At this time, we know that he and the other Missoula County patient both recently traveled outside the Missoula area. Officials are still working to nail down exactly where the virus developed.

As the patients self-isolate in their homes, they’ve been instructed to check their temperature twice a day and monitor their health. Farr says if they get to a point where they need hospital care, the local health department will help facilitate that in a safe way.

In the meantime, officials are working with the patients to determine when their symptom onset began and who they may have been in contact with during the time they were contagious.

“We know that we’re not gonna stop this from coming to Missoula County,” said Farr, “It is spreading and the best thing we can do is try to slow the spread so we can flatten the curve so we’re not overtaxing the healthcare system and overtaxing the economy in a time like this.”

missoula coronavirus press conference.jpg
Local health officials held a press conference on Sunday morning to address the spread of coronavirus into Missoula County.

In flattening the curve, officials can minimize the peaks and valleys often experienced in disease outbreaks. And from a public health and emergency operations standpoint, Missoula County officials say they are well poised to react.

“We’ve been preparing for a pandemic like this for decades,” said Farr. “This is what we do in public health, it’s what we have been prepared to do, we’ve got our emergency plans, we’ve got our emergency planning partners that are working with us on this, so this isn’t something that’s taken us off guard. We’ve been actively working on planning for this pandemic since we first heard about it in January.”

It's expected that the healthcare system will be very taxed during this time, and Missoula County is already saying they need more hands-on deck. They're encouraging registered nurses in the area to apply for a job.

“If we have nurses out there that would like to work, definitely contact human resources at Missoula County because we do expect that this is going to generate quite a workload, so we’re trying to get extra staff in to help with that," Farr said.

Saint Patrick Hospital and Community Medical Center have announced restrictions as has Kalispell Regional Medical Center.

People can contact the Missoula City-County Health Department at (406) 258-INFO for coronavirus information. Officials are asking people to avoid calling 911. The Missoula City-County Health Department also has a special website designed to provide coronavirus information.