HELENA — A task force has been set up as state officials continue to monitor the coronavirus outbreak.
Gov. Steve Bullock, along with state public health and emergency response officials, have announced the activation of the Governor’s Coronavirus Task Force.
There are no current diagnosed cases in the state, but Montana is monitoring the situation and taking steps to prepare a response in the event the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak reaches Montana, according to a news release.
The task force will help coordinate the response and support communication among state, federal and local agencies.
“This is the public health event that Montana practices for,” Bullock said.
Bullock said the state had created a similar task force several years ago to prepare for the possibility of Ebola cases.
Dr. Greg Holzman, the state medical officer, said leaders are now able to test for the new coronavirus within Montana, at the Department of Public Health and Human Services’ laboratory in Helena.
They received about 200 testing kits from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If a hospital determines someone should be tested, they will contact their local public health agency, which will in turn work with DPHHS to get a sample to the state lab.
Bullock said it should take one to three days to get results from the tests – compared to two or three weeks when it had to be done at CDC facilities in Atlanta. The results will show that the sample is either negative for COVID-19 or a “presumptive positive.” Presumptive positives will then be sent to the CDC for further testing.
Leaders say they have been monitoring about 25 Montanans who recently returned from China for coronavirus symptoms. One person has been tested for the virus, but results showed they didn’t have it
“Today I announced the activation of the Governor’s Coronavirus Task Force to bolster the state’s preparations and to ensure we are doing all we can to continue coordinating efforts across state government and aggressively respond,” Governor Bullock said. “Montana has conducted similar public health responses in the past – we are prepared and will continue to be throughout.”
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The Governor’s Coronavirus Task Force is a multi-agency task force that will coordinate public health response, continuity of government, and communication between state, federal and local partners.
The task force will be led by Adjutant General Matthew Quinn, who has overseen similar situations. General Quinn directs the Department of Military Affairs, including the Disaster and Emergency Services (DES) division.
“As Governor Bullock has directed, we have to ensure our state is prepared for the potential [effects] coronavirus may have in our state,” Major General Quinn said. “We are working to ensure agencies within state government are ready and able to support this public health response.”
The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) has already been working with local public health to monitor 25 Montanans who recently returned from mainland China for symptoms of novel coronavirus, the news release states.
“Our local county public health partners are truly on the front lines of disease surveillance, monitoring individuals potentially exposed to the virus, and keeping their communities informed,” DPHHS Director Sheila Hogan said. “This is a rapidly evolving situation and CDC is constantly reviewing and updating its guidance as needed. We encourage Montanans to stay informed by accessing reputable information sources such as the CDC and DPHHS websites.”
The DPHHS public health laboratory now has the capability to test for the coronavirus after recently receiving new test kits from the CDC. Until now, samples to be tested for the coronavirus had to be sent to the CDC.
“This is significant because it will allow us to test with a much quicker turnaround,” Hogan said. “This will allow us to better support testing efforts for medical providers in the state should the need arise.”
Reported illnesses in the US have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death for confirmed coronavirus disease. Symptoms may appear tow-to-14 days after exposure, including fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Generally, elderly people and those with other existing health conditions are likely to be more at risk of developing severe symptoms from respiratory illnesses.
Leaders said the coronavirus response is a quickly changing situation. They said, regardless of what comes next, they’ll be working on how they can be ready.
“Plan, don’t panic – I think that’s the biggest thing,” said Holtzman. “Uncertainty brings a lot of anxiety; that’s just human nature. I think the more that we can sit down – whether it be with your organization or your individual family – and think things through and say, ‘You know, if this happens, what would we do? If this happens, what would we do?’ If there’s holes in that, this is the time that you can kind of start to review and figure out how you would get those answers.”
Local health care providers are also having to get ready for the possibility of dealing with coronavirus cases. St. Peter’s Health leaders released a statement saying that they will be working closely with Lewis and Clark Public Health to get ready.
“We are actively monitoring and following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, and we have screening protocols in place to identify and treat patients who are considered at-risk for the virus,” the statement said.
Governor Bullock emphasized that the same preventive measures that are recommended during cold and flu season will also help to protect against coronavirus, including:
- Wash your hands thoroughly and often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Cover your cough/sneeze with a tissue (or your elbow).
- Stay away from work, school, or other people if you become sick.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
Click here for updated information related to coronavirus from the 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.