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Why COVID-19 is causing more concern than the flu

Posted: 5:21 PM, Mar 17, 2020
Updated: 2020-03-18 10:25:29-04
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Trisha Gardner, the CCHD Health Officer

GREAT FALLS — As of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s most recent update, there have been 4,226 cases of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the United States, and 75 deaths from those cases.

Influenza - the flu - infects millions of people in the United States every year, and kills as many as 60,000. An important clarification before we address some important questions: First, the COVID-19 statistics are almost perpetually out of date. The CDC updates their totals once per day, Monday through Friday. For the most accurate current count, visit their update.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has been anywhere and everywhere over the past couple of weeks. It has undoubtedly changed life as we know it, and we can only hope that those changes are short-term. Despite the widespread panic, if you look at the numbers and the numbers only, we should be much more afraid of Influenza and the fact that it keeps coming back year after year and infecting millions.

So why aren’t we?

“Both have the potential to become a pandemic,” said Cascade City-County Health Department Health Officer Trisha Gardner. “Right now only COVID-19 is a pandemic. However, it has been identified as that way, and people are understandably frightened because we have seen the impact this disease is having on other countries. There's still so much we don't know about COVID-19, and that's why we urge you to take whatever steps you are necessary to protect your health and the health of those around you.”

Simply put, we know about the flu. We know that if you get the flu, antiviral medications can address symptoms and sometimes shorten the duration of the illness. We know that that flu vaccine is available to anyone and is an effective way to prevent some of the most dangerous type of influenza or reduce the severity of the symptoms. We know that people get the flu and survive. Not everyone survives, and while the death rate numbers vary, the CDC estimates that up to 31 million people caught the flu this season, and the number of deaths could be as high as 30,000. Even if we were at the top end of that range, right at 30,000, that would still put the death rate at 0.097%.

That is known. The flu is known. We don’t like the flu, but we’re used to it. It’s the mystery of COVID-19 that seems to be instilling fear in people.

While the world’s top scientists and health officials are working on a cure and a vaccine for Coronavirus, it’s clear how far away we are from that. For right now, there has been some concern that hospitals and other healthcare facilities might not be able to care for people with the flu as effectively because of their focus on this pandemic. Trisha says that’s not the case. She did say, however that the CCHD has seen people coming in with the flu that are scared they might have Coronavirus.

“We are seeing a lot of people confusing that because there is so much crossover,” she explained. “What we recommend is talk with your healthcare provider. Call those lines that are available. They’ll help walk you through and really assess what your potential risk is and if COVID-19 testing is appropriate.”

Make sure to keep an eye on the websites and social media pages of all the healthcare organizations in your area for updates on business closures, health tips, and other news about the COVID-19 pandemic.



(MARCH 16, 2020) Governor Steve Bullock on Monday evening said that there are two new positive cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Montana, bringing the total number of cases in the state to eight.

  • The new Missoula County patient is a man in his 20s
  • The new Yellowstone County patient is a woman in her 20s

The tests, conducted by the DPHHS Public Health Laboratory in Helena, were confirmed Monday evening. State and local public health laboratories are no longer required to send “presumptive positive” samples to CDC for confirmation. From now on, respiratory samples positive for SARS-CoV2 in a state and public-health laboratory will be considered “positive” with no need for further testing. DPHHS and the county health departments are immediately following up to learn more details about the two individual’s exposure risk, travel history, and to identify and communicate with anyone who may have been in close contact with the patients. No other information about the patients has been released. All patients will be isolated or quarantined pursuant to public health guidelines. Those who came into close contact with the individuals will be monitored for 14 days for fever and respiratory symptoms per CDC guidance.

This brings the total number of COVID-19 cases in Montana to eight. The six previously-announced cases in Montana are:

  • Gallatin County: man in his 40s; recovering at home; acquired through international travel
  • Yellowstone County: woman in her 50s; recovering at home; acquired through international travel
  • Butte-Silver Bow County: man in his 50s; recovering at home; acquired domestically in affected areas out of state
  • Broadwater County: man in his 50s who sought care in Lewis and Clark County; recovering at home; acquired domestically in affected areas out of state
  • Missoula County: a man in his 50s, and a woman in her 30s

As of Monday, March 16, DPHHS has tested a total of 311 people for COVID-19; eight of those results have been positive, and 303 have been negative The state currently has the capacity to test approximately 850 more people, and anticipates receiving more tests from the CDC as needed. Click here to visit the DPHHS website. DPPHS says that COVID-19 testing is available 7 days a week; for information about testing, call 1-800-821-7284.

To help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses, you can take the following steps to protect yourself and your family.

  • To help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses, you can take the following steps to protect yourself and your family.
  • Stay home if you’re sick,
  • Cover your cough and sneezes with the crook of your elbow or a tissue
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and wash your hands frequently
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe
  • Call ahead to a healthcare professional if you develop a fever and symptoms of respiratory illness, such as cough or difficulty breathing, and have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19 or if you live in or have recently traveled to an area with ongoing spread. Tell your healthcare professional about your recent travel or contact.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), as of March 14, there are 3,487 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the nation. There have been 68 deaths. Click here for the latest information about COVID-19 at the CDC website.