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Havre Health Care System Opens Clinic For Suspected Coronavirus Patients, Hospital Closes To Visitors & Montana Announces First Cases

Four people in Montana have tested presumptively positive for coronavirus.

The Montana Department of Health and Human Services confirmed the tests Friday evening, Gov. Steve Bullock said in a press release. The tests are considered presumptively positive until confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control.

The cases include a man in Gallatin County in his 40s, a woman in Yellowstone County in her 50s, a man in Butte-Silver Bow County in his 50s, and a man in Lewis and Clark County in his 50s. DPHHS and local county health departments are working to learn more about the patients’ exposure risk, travel history, and to identify and speak to anyone who may have been in touch with them. The patients will be isolated.

Northern Montana Health Care announced late on Friday it has opened an alternative clinic for suspected COVID-19 patients. The clinic is located on the east side of the campus in the former Medical Group East building.

“As further precaution,” Northern Montana Hospital and the Northern Montana Care Center has been closed to all visitors, an NMHC press release says. The doors will remain locked in both buildings. Anyone who needs to enter is asked to call the hospital at 265-2211 first.

NMHC advises: “The most important measure people should take at this time if they feel that they are experiencing symptoms or may have been exposed to someone who is ill is to self-isolate. Quarantining yourself and any exposed family members at your home will help to reduce the spread of this illness.”

While the disease’s spread has shuttered national and statewide sports, schools, political rallies, and Disneyland, Montana has been preparing for the coronavirus. On Thursday, Bullock declared a state of emergency for Montana, which put the state on highest alert. 

Local medical professionals and first responders have been honing protocol should the disease hit the region.

NMHC is setting up a command center where trained medical professionals will be ready to jump into action should the respiratory disease hit the region. The region’s largest health care system is asking the community to use the Emergency Department at Northern Montana Hospital for life-threatening conditions only, a precaution meant to free up resources “for the ongoing situation of COVID-19.”

Tests for coronavirus will be available only for severe cases, said NMHC Public Relations Director Julianne LaSmith.

“If a person is experiencing a fever, dry cough, sore throat, stomach issues, or nasal secretions, you are advised to treat your symptoms with Tylenol, Motrin, and over-the-counter cold medicines,” the press release says. “If you are unable to manage your symptoms at home, your first contact with health care professionals should be by phone.” 

On Thursday, the Commissioner of Higher Education announced Montana University schools, including Havre’s Montana State University-Northern, will shift to online-only courses. On Friday, Northern’s Director of University Relations Jim Potter clarified that some classes — those teaching hands-on trades such as mechanics, plumbing, electrical, and nursing — will be held in the classroom and will not transition to online. Staff will take precautions to make sure classrooms are clean and students learn in smaller groups. 

That same day, Montana Actors’ Theatre production of “Mamma Mia” was postponed to sometime in mid-April.

A letter on Havre Public Schools’ website says students who travel to some countries “may result in restrictions on school attendance upon return.”

The letter, written by Superintendent Andy Carlson, says any student returning from a country with the nonessential travel designation will be required to stay home for 14 days after arriving in the U.S. 

Hill County Sheriff Jamie Ross said in an email that facility staff were following protocols from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on dealing with infectious diseases before anyone ever uttered the word coronavirus.

Ross added, “We have been following CDC guidelines regarding COVID-19, have been cleaning and sanitizing the facility, and are instructing everyone to use proper hand-washing techniques. Inmate and staff health is a priority and has always been monitored and evaluated on a continual basis.”

Statewide, Attorney General Tim Fox warns Montanans to watch out for coronavirus scams and price gouging.

“Scammers are taking advantage of coronavirus fears in other parts of the country, and it’s important to be wary of con artists who want to capitalize on the uncertainty that accompanies this time of heightened concern,” Fox said.  

“Montanans should be cautious of bogus claims for products to prevent or cure coronavirus, in addition to unexpected messages or offers that are suspicious,” Fox added. “My Office of Consumer Protection stands ready to advise folks who have questions about any offers that seem suspect, so consider contacting OCP before responding in questionable situations.” 

At least one statewide candidate has halted in-person appearances.

Democratic attorney general candidate Raph Graybill announced Friday in a press release that his campaign will postpone all major in-person gatherings and events until further notice. 

The Montana Forest Action Advisory Council announced its March meeting will be turned into a tele-meeting “in order to slow and prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”

The Montana Historical Society announced Friday that the Original Governor’s Mansion in Helena is closed until further notice, and the organization is temporarily canceling all public programs. Group tours planned for the rest of this school year will be put on alert, with decisions made in cooperation with schools.

The Montana Department of Labor & Industry announced the cancellation of two upcoming events, the SafetyFest scheduled for March 16 to 19 at Missoula College and the Building Codes Conference scheduled for March 16 to 19 at the Delta Colonial Hotel in Helena.

On Friday afternoon, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency from the White House’s Rose Garden. The declaration opens access to up to $50 billion in financial assistance for states, localities, and territories. The president announced his administration is taking a series of steps to boost the availability of tests, and said it would partner with the private sector to set up drive-through testing sites.

As cases continue to climb, there likely will be further disruptions. 

The CDC reports there are 1,629 COVID-19 cases and 41 deaths in the U.S., numbers that probably will be outdated by the time you read this. 

The novel coronavirus originated in Wuhan, China, in December. It infects the lower respiratory tract. People infected with it first develop a fever, cough, and aches, after which symptoms can progress to shortness of breath and complications from pneumonia. Those infected might develop nausea, with vomiting and diarrhea.

Most cases have been mild, with fever and a dry cough being the most common symptoms. Many patients have recovered within a few weeks. Others are mildly ill for a few days, then rapidly develop more severe symptoms of pneumonia.

Health officials say those most susceptible to dying from the virus are older people who have underlying conditions such as diabetes or heart or lung diseases. The mortality rate for the new coronavirus is often cited as about 2%. Comparatively, the mortality rate for severe seasonal influenza is much lower, at 0.1%.

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, anticipating the virus will spread to all countries on the globe.

A Johns Hopkins map tracking coronavirus cases shows China has been hit hardest by the disease, with nearly 81,000 documented cases and over 3,000 deaths. 

Write to Paul Dragu at editor@havreherald.com

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editor@havreherald.com (406) 262-7778
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