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Coronavirus (COVID-19): Frequently Asked Questions in Great Falls

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Posted at 6:02 PM, Mar 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-19 20:10:16-04

GREAT FALLS — The City of Great Falls on Thursday declared a State of Emergency in response to growing concerns about the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). During a new conference, civic leaders explained what the order means in terms of daily operations.

Trisha Gardner, the health officer of the City-County Health Department, said that all restaurants in Cascade County will be limited to drive-through, take-out, delivery, and curb-side service only, effective at 6 a.m. on Friday, March 20. The order extends until Friday, March 27, and could be extended. Other businesses ordered to close for the duration of the emergency order include casinos, bars, gyms/fitness centers, bowling alleys, coffee bars, movie theatres, and "other commercial businesses in which people assemble for recreation." Gardner also noted that although there are no confirmed COVID-19 cases in Cascade County at this time, there are several "suspect" cases.

The CCHD has provided the following information to help answer questions that many people have:

1. What about nursing homes?
a. Because the people who are living in nursing homes (whether due to age or chronic health conditions) are at high risk for complications from COVID-19 and other respiratory illness, nursing homes and similar facilities have already begun taking serious prevention measures and restricting visitation.
b. Montana State DPHHS has directed such facilities to abide by CDC guidance, which can be found here on the CDC website.

2. What about churches?
a. Older adults and people who have severe underlying chronic medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes seem to be at higher risk for serious complications related to COVID-19. We encourage high-risk individuals to avoid crowds as much as possible.
b. The President of the United States has directed that people do not congregate in groups of 10 or more. Consider alternative measures for worship & work: i. Hold more worship services with fewer attendees ii. Stagger work or small group schedules to minimize the number of people in your building and direct anyone present to use social distancing measures. iii. Consider holding virtual gatherings or worship services. iv. Worshippers or employees who are sick should be sent home before entering the building.
c. The EPA has developed guidance for cleaning & sanitation, which can be found on the EPA website.

3. What about daycares?
a. We understand that daycare is an essential service and are not closing daycares at this time.
b. First responders & medical personnel looking for daycare should contact Great Falls Public Schools.
c. Daycare owners/operators should separate children and staff into groups of 10 or less, per President Trump’s guidelines. i. Children and staff should be screened for symptoms when entering the building, and should be sent home if they start showing symptoms over the course of the day. ii. Attempt to create space between children and staff, and keep groups of 10 separated from each other throughout the building d. The EPA has developed guidance for cleaning & sanitation, which can be found on the EPA website.

4. What about hair salons?
a. Clients and staff who are sick should stay home and reschedule. i. In particular, older adults and people who have severe underlying chronic medical conditions like diabetes or heart/lung disease seem to be at higher risk for serious complications related to COVID-19. We encourage high-risk individuals to stay home as much as possible. ii. If anyone appears to develop symptoms over the course of the day, send them home immediately.
b. If a salon has multiple hairdressers, stagger the scheduling of appointments so that only 10 people are in the building at a time.
c. The EPA has developed guidance for cleaning & sanitation, which can be found on the EPA website.

5. What about work sites with more than 10 people?
a. For agencies or establishments whose services are not restricted by the Health Officer’s order, we refer you to the CDC’s latest guidance, which can be found on the CDC website.
b. Businesses should immediately begin preparing to modify their day-to-day operations or even close temporarily. i. Close areas where large groups could congregate or where people would be in unavoidably close vicinity to each other (meeting rooms, break rooms, etc.) ii. Change face-to-face or walk-in services to be conducted by phone, email iii. Let employees work remotely whenever possible, especially older or high-risk employees iv. Hold meetings virtually whenever possible v. Distance employees from each other by rearranging workspaces vi. Send sick employees home and develop generous sick leave policies if possible vii. Research online services your business could provide

6. Is there a penalty if a business refuses to restrict services and stays open to the public? How will the order be enforced?
a. Yes. Clarifying information will be issued soon.

7. What about people who are traveling to our area for healthcare? For instance, for elective surgeries?
a. Currently, travel WITHIN the United States is not restricted.
b. At this time, whether elective services are offered is determined by each medical facility. Factors considered are medical supplies, staffing, and facility size.
c. Contact healthcare facilities directly to learn about their policies on elective healthcare during a potential outbreak.

8. What’s happening at the airport? What about students and families returning from spring break?
a. Most larger airports that send flights into Great Falls have screening processes in place to prevent symptomatic travelers from exposing others to COVID-19 or other illnesses.
b. We recommend social distancing while waiting for flights.
c. To learn more about the social distancing procedures in place on flights, visit your airline’s website or reach out to their customer service department.
d. We urge people with recent or upcoming travel to review CDC travel guidelines and reach out to a medical provider immediately if they develop flu-like symptoms. Guidelines can be found on the CDC website.
e. CCHD is working closely with the Great Falls International Airport to ensure the safety and health of our community.

If you have questions or concerns not addressed above, contact CCHD at 406-454-6950 or health@cascadecountymt.gov.

As of Thursday morning (March 19) there are 11 confirmed COVID-19 patients in the state of Montana. Here is the publicly-released information about them:

  • Missoula County (4): man in his 50s, woman in her 30s; man in his 20s; man in his 50s
  • Gallatin County (3): man in his 40s; man in his 20s; man in his 60s
  • Yellowstone County (2): woman in her 50s; woman in her 20s
  • Butte-Silver Bow County: man in his 50s
  • Broadwater County: man in his 50s
  • There is also a Montana woman diagnosed with COVID-19 who is a part-time Lake County resident; she is currently in Maryland with no documented exposures or close contacts in Montana, and was not tested in Montana. She was tested and diagnosed in Maryland, where she currently is residing.

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