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Officials in Cascade County address coronavirus concerns

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Posted at 6:41 AM, Mar 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-15 13:58:08-04

GREAT FALLS — Representatives from several agencies, including Cascade City-County Health Department, Benefis Health System, the City of Great Falls, Malmstrom Air Force Base, Great Falls Clinic, and Great Falls Public Schools, met on Saturday to discuss the coronvirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Trisha Gardner of the CCHD said that all COVID-19 tests that Cascade County sent to the state lab as of Friday (March 14) have come back negative. At this time, there are NO confirmed cases in Cascade County.. She also discussed the importance of taking testing needs seriously: “We can't test everybody who just wants a test. They are going to be really working within that criteria to determine who is the appropriate person to get tested,” Gardner said.

Benefis emergency physician Bridget Brennan listed the criteria for those who are likely to be tested: “Do you have a fever, cough? Are you short of breath? Do you have lung disease, heart disease, that sort of thing? If you do and you have been exposed to somebody with known COVID-19 or have traveled to a place where community spread is wide, then we are likely to test you,” Brennan said.

Despite public concerns over coronavirus cases reaching pandemic levels, Dr Ray Geyer of the Great Falls Clinic explained that most coronavirus cases aren’t high-risk: “About 80 percent of people that have symptoms is nothing more than what we would call a common cold - some nasal symptoms, nasal discharge, sore throat, maybe some cough,” Geyer said. Around 20 percent of cases could result in pneumonia, and only a small fraction of those 20 percent could lead to death.

Dr. Brennan agreed, saying many infected people don’t even need medical treatment. “For most people this could be cold-like symptoms. Those people do not necessarily not need to be seen by a physician or any practitioner . They can be treated at home. Over the counter pain reliever. Over the counter cough medicines. Rest. Stay home if you’re ill. Please wash your hands,” Brennan said.

Superintendent Tom Moore also addressed the group to discuss Great Falls Public School's response. He said they will be continuously monitoring what city-county health care officials tell them, providing custodial staff adequate cleaning supplies, utilizing their team of nurses to meet individual student needs, preparing staff to provide distance learning to students in the event of extended school closure, preparing to provide meals in the case that students are isolated or quarantined or if there is a massive school closure, preparing to address parents child care needs in the case that they do close. He also added parents can access the website and Facebook page for updates. In the event of a school closure, GFPS will use the Edulink Robocall system to inform parents in case of emergency.

Great Falls Mayor Bob Kelly said “Our role is really to make sure that we communicate effectively together as a group, that we dispel any rumors that are out there and have one source of information that is reliable, dependable, and knowledgeable. And that is the city-county health services."

Various regions of Cascade County are responding to coronavirus as they see fit, including Benefis Health System, Great Falls Clinic, and Malmstrom Air Force Base.

Here are some of the changes taking place in response to the virus.

  • Benefis Health System: No Visitors Policy in place for Senior Services; COVID-19 Help Line established 406-455-2500; Medical office buildings and clinics moving appointment locations to separate sick people from well people
  • Malmstrom Air Force Base; Declared a public health emergency; Closing certain base facilities and restricting movement to limit spread of virus; Virtual town halls held via Facebook; Limiting travel
  • Great Falls Clinic: Directing possible cases to NW location for evaluation so main clinic open for core operations; Employee health screening; Take temperature of employees; Employees must shave facial hair to avoid transmission of virus via facial hair


(SATURDAY, MARCH 14) Governor Steve Bullock on Saturday said in a news release that two presumptively positive cases of coronavirus, or COVID-19, have been confirmed in Missoula County. The two cases are a woman in her 30s, and a man in his 50s

No other information about the two patients has been released at this point. The tests, conducted by the DPHHS Public Health Laboratory, were confirmed Saturday evening. As is current standard, test results are considered presumptively positive and will be confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The two Missoula County cases announced on Saturday bring the total number of cases of COVID-19 in Montana to six (see note below), after four were announced on Friday. There were four positive cases announced on Friday in the counties of Gallatin, Yellowstone, Silver Bow, and Broadwater.

  • The Gallatin patient is a man in his 40s; recovering at home; acquired through international travel
  • The Yellowstone patient is a woman in her 50s; recovering at home; rcquired through international travel
  • The Silver Bow patient is a man in his 50s; recovering at home; acquired domestically in affected areas out of state
  • The Broadwater patient is a man in his 50s who sought care in Lewis and Clark County; recovering at home; acquired domestically in affected areas out of state

The patients have been isolated in accordance with public health guidelines. People who came into close contact with them will be monitored for 14 days for fever and respiratory symptoms per CDC guidance. Public health officials are 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.

The City-County Health Department in Great Falls said on Saturday that all the COVID-19 tests that Cascade County sent to the state lab as of Friday, March 13, have come back negative. At this time, there are NO confirmed cases in Cascade County.

NOTE: In addition to the six confirmed cases actually IN Montana, there is a seventh Montanan confirmed to have COVID-19. That person, from Lake County, is a part time Montana resident 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.