COVID-19: State health lab engaged in testing Montanans

By 
Deb Hill
News-Argus Managing Editor
Friday, March 13, 2020
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COVID-19 testing is happening in Montana but as of Friday, no one has tested positive for the Coronavirus.
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Montana residents have access to Coronavirus testing, according to Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services Public Information Officer Jon Ebelt.
“The process is for a person to see their medical provider to be evaluated. The medical provider will decide whether to refer individuals for testing,” Ebelt said in an email in response to News-Argus questions.
Ebelt said the state health lab is following the CDC guidelines, which start with assessing patients for symptoms compatible with COVID-19 (Coronavirus disease), which include fever or symptoms of acute respiratory illness.
Priorities for testing include hospitalized patients with symptoms compatible with COVID-19, individuals over age 65 with symptoms, symptomatic individuals with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or lung disease, and any persons who had contact with a diagnosed COVID-19 patient or with a history of travel from an affected geographic area within 14 days of onset of symptoms.
Ebelt said the state currently has 1,000 test kits, received from the Centers for Disease Control. The recent approval of $4.5 million in federal funding could be used to purchase additional test kits or supplies, which Ebelt said will be discussed at a meeting with “federal partners” next week.

Ebelt said CDC guidelines strongly encourage medical clinicians to also test for other respiratory diseases, such as influenza.
As of Friday morning, DPHHS reported testing 55 individuals in Montana. All tests were negative.
While Montana is listed as having one test of confirmed COVID-19, that individual lives part of the year in Maryland and had not been in Montana since November. However, Ebelt said, the federal protocol is to list the case as being in the state the individual considers their home state.
“We are working very hard to prepare for when we get our first cases,” Ebelt said. “Once a case is identified, DPHHS and local officials will work to limit the spread of the virus as much as possible to others through public health intervention efforts already in place.”
If and when a COVID-19 case is documented in Montana, DPHHS officials will work with local public health authorities to determine how the person acquired the illness, and whether others are at risk from the same source. Officials will also attempt to identify those who have been exposed through close contact (described as being within 6 feet of the infected individual for a prolonged period of time). The patient will be provided with supportive care and isolated at home or in the hospital.
“Many of our counties have extensive experience with similar investigations for conditions like pertussis which a spread in a similar way,” Ebelt said.
Prevention is still the best approach to dealing with the Coronavirus, Ebelt said. DPHHS guidelines are:
•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 that can help prevent the spread of several viruses,” Ebelt said.
For the latest updates of COVID-19 in Montana, visit the DPHHS website: covid19.mt.gov.

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