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Bullock activates Coronavirus Task Force

Posted at 4:14 PM, Mar 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-03 19:50:29-05

GREAT FALLS — Governor Steve Bullock, along with state public health and emergency response officials, announced on Tuesday the activation of a Coronavirus Task Force. While there are no current diagnosed cases in the state, civic leaders are monitoring the developing situation and taking steps to prepare and respond in the event the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak reaches Montana.

As of March 3rd, there are no confirmed or suspected cases of coronavirus anywhere in Montana. There was one suspected case three weeks ago in Bozeman, but testing by the CDC determined that the person was not infected with coronavirus. That person was placed in isolation at Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital until testing was complete and confirmed that coronavirus was not present.

A press release from Bullock says that the Coronavirus Task Force will coordinate public health response, continuity of government, and communication between local, state, and federal agencies. The Task Force will be led by Adjutant General Matthew Quinn, who has overseen similar situations. General Quinn directs the Montana Department of Military Affairs, including the Disaster & Emergency Services (DES) division which is well versed in multi-agency coordination and all-hazard response planning. DES will engage agencies including the Department of Military Affairs, Department of Administration, Department of Commerce, Department of Labor and Industry, and Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS). The Governor’s chief of staff and budget director will also sit on the Task Force.

DPHHS has already been working with local public health agencies to monitor 25 Montanans who recently returned from mainland China for symptoms of novel coronavirus. Monitoring of those potentially at risk is intended to catch signs of the illness at the earliest possible time and ensure appropriate care and precautions are taken to prevent spread while testing is performed. One Montanan was tested for coronavirus about two weeks ago, and test results were negative.

The DPHHS public health laboratory now has the capability to test for the coronavirus after recently receiving new test kits from the Centers for Disease Control (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 turn around,” DPHHS director Sheila 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 2-14 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.

Montana civic leaders are receiving daily updates and guidance from CDC. This information is then shared through the state’s Health Alert Network to local health officials, including various travel guidance related to coronavirus. The state continues to communicate with CDC and local county and Tribal health to investigate and monitor possible exposures.

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.These are everyday habits which can help prevent the spread of several viruses.
For the latest information on coronavirus, click here to visit the CDC website.