March 22 COVID-19 updates: CCHD provides more information on Cascade County cases; Great Falls Clinic offering telehealth options; local hospitals not accepting handmade masks; St. Vincent de Paul updates services

The three Cascade County residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 recently traveled internationally.

Cascade County City-County Health Department was notified March 21 by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services of the positive tests.

  • One is a male in his 50s, who recently engaged in international travel
  • One is a female in her 50s, who recently engaged in international travel
  • One is a female in her 20s, who recently engaged in international travel

Trisha Gardner, county health officer, said during a Sunday morning press briefing that the individuals “have taken every possible precaution to quarantine and isolate themselves, even before entering our county.”

March 21 COVID-19 update: 3 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Cascade County; WIC offices close to public; CCHD shares additional guidance about gathering restrictions; Symphony reschedules Jubilee concert

Gardner said all three were not symptomatic during their flights and none flew into the Great Falls International Airport, which is not closed, contrary to some rumors in town.

Gardner said they flew into a different airport and drove back to Cascade County.

March 20 COVID-19 updates: Library offering curbside pickup; Malmstrom AFB raises health protection level; Cascade County declares emergency; county jail still accepting offenders; Bullock orders closures of dine-in food and beverage businesses; Showdown closing; GFPS food drive today at Bison Ford; Great Falls Rescue Mission adjusting operations

They became symptomatic after returning to the U.S. and self-quarantined upon arriving home, then called their healthcare providers before going in to be seen, and isolated themselves, Gardner said. They are currently recovering at home, she said.

“Given the precautions that these ind all took, and again I want to thank them for the proactive measures that they took, their actions made it so that the chances of other community members being exposed were very, very, very, very limited,” Gardner said.

March 19 COVID-19 updates: health officer orders restrictions on bars, restaurants, bowling alleys, etc.; city declaring sate of emergency; changes at city attorneys office, animal shelter and Municipal Court; downtown metered parking enforcement suspended; Lewis and Clark Trail Mixer postponed; GFCMSU changing access, operations

Gardner said CCHD will not disclose any further information about their travels or current locations or other identifying information, nor has the agency named any of the patients, contrary to a rumor floating online. She said the individuals may self disclose if they so choose.

In the case of outbreaks, public health agencies have protocols for investigating people a sick person had contact with to trace its spread and isolate anyone who may have been exposed.

County to consider postponing all activities at Expo Park through April 30, approves contract with Alluvion for viral screening clinic

Gardner said CCHD staff has confidentially reached out to close contacts of the three individuals who have also been quarantined. She said those people are taking their temperature twice daily, self-monitoring for symptoms and call their provider if they being to experience symptoms.

Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 is quarantined for 14 days, as are their close contacts, according to a number of health agencies, including CCHD. Gardner has been saying that information publicly for the last week.

Gardner said the state lab is running seven days a week and getting results back within 24-48 hours for the most part. Priority testing is being given to those that are the most highly suspect, she said.

According to Montana Disaster and Emergency Services, as of 2 p.m. March 22, 1,392 people had been tested by the state lab or U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The number doesn’t include any tests run by private or commercial labs.

Healthcare providers in Cascade County are following guidance from Montana’s DPHHS and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control on testing criteria. The state public health lab has expanded the number of tests it runs daily and commercial labs are now processing test swabs from local providers, “however, the delay in results demands that providers rule out other causes of illness and prioritize COVID-19 testing of high-risk, symptomatic individuals. Our medical providers and first responders are the front line of this response, and they take the health of our community very seriously. We trust the judgment of our partner agencies, who have proven over and over to be worthy of that trust. There are multiple community resources available if you have flu-like symptoms and feel you need to be seen by a doctor. Please call before going in,” according to CCHD.

Dr. Ray Geyer, an infectious disease doctor with Great Falls Clinic and member of the county health board, and Dr. Bridget Brennan MD, emergency physician and chief medical officer for Benefis Medical Group, both outlined testing criteria and processes during a press conference last week.

March 13: Cascade County COVID-19 updates

They said that for the most part, people who presented symptoms and were tested for COVID-19, would be sent home and asked to self-quarantine while awaiting test results.

In a March 22 White House press briefing, the U.S. Surgeon General Vice Admiral Jerome Adams said only 10 percent of people who had symptoms and were tested, had a positive result for COVID-19.

Or, he said, nine out of 10 people who had symptoms tested negative for COVID-19.

Few people were being quarantined at either Benefis or Great Falls Clinic, they said, and most people would be able to recover at home. Some would have more severe reactions, likely due to comorbitities, or other health conditions.

Geyer and Brennan said patients with symptoms would be tested for other respiratory viruses, a testing panel that includes about 20 different viruses. If you test negative for influenza, you could have a different respiratory infection, they said. The test panel doesn’t include COVID-19 because it’s too new, so it requires an additional test.

Alluvion Health has established a viral incident clinic at the CCHD building downtown to screen patients for a variety of viral infections. If people test negative for other viruses and clinical staff think a COVID-19 test is warranted, Alluvion staff will coordinate with CCHD and other health providers to arrange a test.

Some have asked for everyone to be tested for COVID-19, but Gardner told The Electric that “what we know now is that testing of asymptomatic individuals does not appear to be very accurate or reliable. Therefore if someone has been a close contact to a known case they will be asked to quarantine and monitor themselves for symptoms for 14 days and coordinate with their healthcare provider to receive testing if they become symptomatic.”

According to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services there are now 34 cases of COVID-19 across the state. One of those cases is counted in Montana though the woman was tested and remains in Maryland.

state tracking map shows the confirmed cases are as follows by county:

  • Cascade County: 3 cases
  • Madison County: 1 case
  • Flathead County: 2 case
  • Gallatin County: 10 cases
  • Silver Bow County: 1 case
  • Yellowstone County: 6 cases
  • Ravalli County: 1 case
  • Broadwater County: 1 case
  • Missoula County: 4 cases
  • Lewis and Clark County: 3 cases
  • Roosevelt County: 1 case
  • Lake County: 1 case

During the March 22 press briefing, Gardner again reminded residents of prevention measures individuals should take to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Those measures include:

  • thorough and frequent handwashing
  • regular disinfection of commonly used surfaces
  • covering sneezes and coughs with and elbow or tissue that is promptly disposed
  • social distancing
  • more importantly, staying home when sick. Call providers before going to be seen and employers should tell sick employees to stay home.

Great Falls Clinic

The Great Falls Clinic patients will be able to have telephone or video appointments with their provider beginning March 23.

Due to COVID-19, the Great Falls Clinic is attempting to limit in-person visits where appropriate and encourage social distancing. Patients will continue to been seen at their regularly scheduled appointment and the clinic is working to separate well patients from the sick.

We will continue to see patients as usual at their regularly scheduled appointments and we will continue to separate our well patients from our sick.

“This is one of the many steps we are taking to be proactive during this time. We want to give our patients as many options as possible and promote patient safety,” Vicki Newmiller, CEO of the Great Falls Clinic, said in a release.

Call the clinic at 406-454-2171 to schedule your appointment or you may request an appointment using the patient portal. Contact the clinic to modify any future existing appointments. Some appointments are unavailable via telehealth, examples include radiology and laboratory. If you are not registered with the patient portal, contact the portal hotline at 406-771-3031 or email patientportal.support@gfclinic.com.

Medicare and Medicaid will be covering this service the same as they would an in-person office visit. Many private insurers are also covering these services as well, however, the clinic encourages patients to check with their own insurance to determine whether a telephone appointment will be covered.

Mask donations

Several readers have asked The Electric about donating masks for healthcare providers.

The Electric asked Benefis Health System and Great Falls Clinic if they were accepting donated homemade masks.

At this time, Great Falls Clinic is not, but that could change.

According to an email from Benefis, they are not accepting homemade masks as they “do not offer protection against germs from sneezing and coughing and are not effective in a clinical setting. We’re incredibly grateful for the community’s support; right now the best way to help the local healthcare facilities is to follow instructions regarding calling before coming in if experiencing symptoms, abiding by visitor restrictions, and practicing the things that we’ve been sharing about handwashing, social distancing, using hand sanitizer, etc. As the governor noted the other day – prevention is the only treatment.”

Updated 2-1-1 from St. Vincent de Paul

Is your building open? Yes

Food Bank, 426 Central Ave. W.: Monday/Wednesday/Friday 9 a.m.-11:30 a.m. and 1-3:30 p.m.

St Vincent de Paul Charity Services, 426 Central Ave. W.: Monday/Wednesday/Friday 9 a.m.-11:30 a.m. and 1-3:30 p.m.

The Homeless Drop-In Center at 500 Central Ave. W. is closed.

What services are operating?

  • Food Bank operating, but food and clothing vouchers are now being processed over the phone. We are short volunteers and are at a breaking point. Food donations have decreased from grocery stores and demand has increased.
  • Increase services of food box delivery for those without transportation. Food boxes can be delivered.
  • Charity Services for clothing and household items and some limited support services.
  • Homeless Grab and Go Lunches available Sunday-Thursday at the Methodist Church parking lot 610 2nd Ave. N., beginning at 11:30 a.m. until gone each scheduled day. Staff will also have feminine hygiene products, socks and limited clothing available at lunch for distribution. Social support and Census will be available on site.

What need do you have for community volunteers if any?

We have a need for drivers to drop off food boxes, drivers to pick up food, and assistance in warehouse and food processing on food bank days. We have a need for people who can cook in our donated commercial kitchen to make grab and go lunches for homeless. 

More information is available on the website here, or by contacting Deb Kottel at 899-7401 or deborah.kottel@uprovidence.edu. For charity services information, contact Brittany Burke at 899-6764 or by email at Brittany.burke@svdpncmt.org.