By Amy Beth Hanson ASSOCIATED PRESS
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Plan, don’t panic. That was the message from Montana officials about the coronavirus that first appeared late last year in Wuhan, China and has spread to several countries, including the United States.
“We do not have any known cases of COVID-19 in Montana, however, all Montanans need to move forward with the understanding that this virus may soon be here and we all need to be prepared,” said Dr. Greg Holzman, the state’s medical officer.
Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock said Tuesday he was activating a task force to coordinate the state’s preparations and coordination among agencies and public health departments.
“Montana has conducted similar public health responses in the past,” Bullock said. “We are prepared and will continue to be throughout.”
Influenza is active in the state and has similar symptoms to COVID-19, including fever, cough and shortness of breath, but there are vaccines against and antiviral treatments for the flu, Holzman said.
People can take the same steps to avoid exposure to either virus–wash your hands frequently using soap and water or hand sanitizer; avoid touching your face; cough or sneeze into a tissue or your elbow; stay home if you’re sick; and disinfect objects and surfaces regularly, officials said.
Montana’s state lab now has 200 coronavirus tests available, offering a much quicker turnaround than sending samples to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lab, officials said. Positive tests would still be sent to the CDC for confirmation, Holzman said.
Officials urged residents to turn to the CDC or the state health department for accurate information about the virus that has infected more than 90,000 people globally and caused over 3,100 deaths, including at least nine in Washington state. The serious illnesses and deaths have happened mostly among the elderly and people with underlying health conditions, Holzman said.
People who suspect they have coronavirus are asked to call their health care provider before showing up so the clinic or hospital can take any needed precautions, Holzman said.
Anyone with mild symptoms would likely be sent home with instructions to stay away from others and with precautions their family members would need to take, Holzman said, echoing CDC guidance issued in mid-February.
While taking precautions to avoid getting sick, “we should all go about our regular daily lives,” Bullock said. “It’s divisionals in basketball this weekend. You know where I will be.” His daughter plays basketball for Helena High.