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Gallatin health department addresses the first case of COVID-19

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By Mira Brody EBS STAFF

BOZEMAN – On March 14 the Gallatin County Health Department held a press conference to update the public on a confirmed COVID-19 case in Gallatin County late Friday night. A total of six cases have been confirmed in the state after two additional residents in Missoula tested positive for the virus.

Matt Kelley, Health Officer with Gallatin City-County Health Department and Cindi Spinelli, GCCHD’s Communicable Disease Specialist, were on hand to answer questions.

The individual who tested positive for the coronavirus in Gallatin County is a male in his 40s who returned from Europe on Wednesday, was tested Thursday, and confirmed positive by Friday evening. He and his family were cooperative, according to Kelley, and said they had all been home since their arrival and had no contact with “sensitive places” such as long-term care facilities, schools or large public events in the interim.

Kelley said the individual’s diligence to stay home while symptomatic prevented exposure to the public and has resulted in no identified local contacts of concern related to this case. Health department staff will continue working with the individual and his family to ensure they remain under quarantine in their home.

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services has been working with the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport to get the individual’s flight number and contact the people who were in his immediate radius during the flight. Extra precautious were taken at the healthcare facility in which he was treated to prevent the spread of the virus to the point that the health department currently has no contacts of concern. Even with high-profile cases such as the coronavirus, the county uses existing, effective protocols to mitigate communicable diseases, Kelley said.

“Presumptively confirmed” means the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has yet to officially confirm the case, however from a local level Kelley said they do not wait for CDC confirmation to act, and are treating it exactly as if the word presumptive wasn’t there.

At this time, health officials are not disclosing the individual’s name, the country in Europe from where he traveled, or where in Gallatin County he lives, according to Kelley. They have no further information on the three other presumptively confirmed cases in the state of Montana, which are being handled their own county procedures.

Kelley stressed four key points everyone can follow moving forward: stay home if you’re sick; wash your hands frequently; focus on your physical health by eating healthy foods, staying hydrated and getting plenty of sleep; and finally—be kind and compassionate to one another.

“We are likely to see more cases and more people with mild symptoms isolating at home. They may be our neighbors, our friends or colleagues,” said Kelley. “If so, reach out to them via text email or phone call.”

COVID-19 is a new virus but not a strong one and can be killed with everyday cleaning products and washing your hands with soap and warm water. Spinelli noted that the virus does not seem to survive long when airborne and an individual is unlikely to contract both the flu and coronavirus at the same time. Kelley believes Gallatin County will see more cases soon, but that most people will only experience mild symptoms and recover on their own.

“There’s no magic pill, there’s no vaccine that you’re missing out on,” Kelley said. “If you have mild symptoms surely contact your healthcare provider, but have some patience and know that they are working really hard to make sure they we are serving everybody.”

Testing at this point does require symptoms and involves a health care professional ruling out influenza and other respiratory illness. If COVID-19 is suspected, there are a series of procedures that take place in the Public Health Lab in Helena to determine whether or not it is a positive case.

It is unclear how the pandemic will affect our economy this early on, but local businesses are adapting as they can, many allowing employees to work remotely or enacting a relaxed sick leave policy.

“We’re trying to stay vigilant, getting people their money back or shows rebooked if at all possible,” said Michal Madeline, general manager at Cactus Records in downtown Bozeman, which serves as a box office for local entertainment venues. “It’s something that’s changing hour by hour. We just want people to be happy and healthy.”

Gallatin County currently has no restrictions in place regarding group sizes or large events, but health officials suggest that to be proactive the community should stay home to reduce exposure.

“I can’t emphasize the importance enough of staying home if you are sick,” Kelley said. “Our first case in Gallatin County followed this advice and likely saved many from exposure to the disease. Ask yourself: Do you want to be the person to expose hundreds or dozens of people to COVID-19, or do you want to be the person who stays home and helps us bend the curve of this pandemic by preventing new cases?”

Kelley said the best thing we can do to keep our community healthy is to take care of ourselves and despite any building anxiety or frustration, to understand that our healthcare workers are working hard to serve everyone, and to provide them with patience and grace during this time.

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