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Missoula health officials clarify coronavirus testing procedures

Missoula City County Health Department
Posted at 1:36 PM, Mar 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-10 15:36:02-04

MISSOULA — Local health officials are seeking to clarify some confusion over testing for coronavirus.

The Missoula City-County Health Department and local hospitals report they have received several calls regarding testing for coronavirus (COVID-19).

“There is a lot of confusion among the public about testing for COVID-19, mostly around the expectation that anyone can get a test,” said Cindy Farr, incident commander for the county’s response team. “It’s not as simple as testing everyone in the community.”

The current test is not designed to screen people for their risk or exposure to the virus and can only diagnose someone with COVID-19 who is showing symptoms. The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) recently received approval to start testing for coronavirus but have access to only 200 tests for the whole state.

Local health officials note that in order for a test to be completed, local health care providers work with DPHHS and take into account a person’s likelihood of exposure, their symptoms, the severity of those symptoms, and the exclusion of other respiratory illnesses.

These criteria were set to use resources effectively and ensure that those with a higher likelihood of having COVID-19 are diagnosed quickly, according to a news release. A private lab will soon be able to process diagnostic tests for Missoula, but local health officials note this doesn’t change the nature of the test, as it is still a diagnostic test and not used for screening.

“Hopefully, more resources will become available, but we need to work effectively with the resources we currently have,” Farr said. “Right now, the best tool we have in our community is prevention. Wash your hands, avoid close contact with people who are sick and disinfect surfaces frequently. “If you do exhibit symptoms of fever, coughing or shortness of breath, call your medical provider first and stay home except when seeking medical treatment."

While Missoula County currently does not have any cases, the health department encourages the public to take the following basic precautions:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are ill.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Frequently clean and disinfect surfaces with regular household cleaners.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the restroom, before eating, and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
  • If soap and water are not available for handwashing, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Do not travel to areas identified as being at elevated risk for the virus.

Additional information about the coronavirus can be found by calling the local hotline at (406) 258-INFO, or by clicking here.

Additional information about coronavirus can be found on the CDC's website, including the following:

Outbreaks of novel virus infections among people are always of public health concern. The risk to the general public from these outbreaks depends on characteristics of the virus, including how well it spreads between people; the severity of resulting illness; and the medical or other measures available to control the impact of the virus (for example, vaccines or medications that can treat the illness). That this disease has caused severe illness, including illness resulting in death is concerning, especially since it has also shown sustained person-to-person spread in several places. These factors meet two of the criteria of a pandemic. As community spread is detected in more and more countries, the world moves closer toward meeting the third criteria, worldwide spread of the new virus.

It is important to note that current circumstances suggest it is likely that this virus will cause a pandemic. This is a rapidly evolving situation and CDC’s risk assessment will be updated as needed.

Current risk assessment:

  • For the majority of people, the immediate risk of being exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 is thought to be low. There is not widespread circulation in most communities in the United States.
  • People in places where ongoing community spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been reported are at elevated risk of exposure, with increase in risk dependent on the location.
  • Healthcare workers caring for patients with COVID-19 are at elevated risk of exposure.
  • Close contacts of persons with COVID-19 also are at elevated risk of exposure.
  • Travelers returning from affected international locations where community spread is occurring also are at elevated risk of exposure, with increase in risk dependent on location.

CDC has developed guidance to help in the risk assessment and management of people with potential exposures to COVID-19.