Missoula health officials clarify COVID-19 testing procedures

Reduce coronavirus WHO

Missoula City-County Health Department and local hospitals have received several calls regarding testing for COVID-19.

“There is a lot of confusion among the public about testing for COVID-19, mostly around the expectation that anyone can get a test,” says Cindy Farr, incident commander for the county’s response team. “It’s not as simple as testing everyone in the community.”

One of the most significant points of confusion is how the test works. The current test is not designed to screen people for their risk of exposure to the virus. It can only diagnose someone with COVID-19 who is showing symptoms.

Another challenge with testing is the number of test kits available. While the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services received approval to start testing for COVID-19 early last week, they had access to only 200 tests for the whole state, meaning resources need to be used judiciously. For a test to be completed at the state, local health care providers work with DPHHS and take into account a person’s likelihood of exposure, their symptoms, the severity of those symptoms, and the exclusion of other respiratory illnesses. These criteria were set to use resources effectively and ensure that those with a higher likelihood of having COVID-19 are diagnosed quickly.

Soon, a private lab will be able to process diagnostic tests for Missoula. While this is welcome news, that doesn’t change the nature of the test, as it is still a diagnostic test and not used for screening. It also does not increase the supply of tests, and health care providers will still need to assess the likelihood of COVID-19 before testing. While more testing is a good thing, Montana does not want labs overwhelmed with tests from unlikely candidates, resulting in delays diagnosing those who may have the disease.

“Hopefully, more resources will become available, but we need to work effectively with the resources we currently have,” Farr says. “Right now, the best tool we have in our community is prevention.”

The health department recommends the following precautions:

  • Wash your hands
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Disinfect surfaces frequently
  • If you do exhibit symptoms of fever, coughing or shortness of breath, call your medical provider first and stay home except when seeking medical treatment

The public can call 406-258-INFO with questions or concerns about COVID-19. Local information also is online at http://missoula.co/cvirus.

Apply to serve on the new Missoula Food Policy Advisory Board

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Are you interested in increasing local food security, promoting sustainable agriculture, building regional self-reliance and climate resiliency, and connecting food access programs to local, nutritious food? Then apply to serve on the Missoula Food Policy Advisory Board!

Missoula County, the City of Missoula and the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition recently partnered to establish the board, which will consist of seven voting members: three appointed by the county commissioners, two appointed by the City Council, one appointed by Missoula Mayor John Engen, and one appointed by CFAC. There also will be two alternate members who serve on the board and vote in the absence of a regular member.

“The creation of the Food Policy Advisory Board came as the result of fantastic intergovernmental cooperation and community participation,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick. “I look forward to integrating expertly designed food and farming policy recommendations into our deliberations at the Board of County Commissioners.”

The appointing bodies may consider candidates who represent or specialize in these suggested areas:

  • local agricultural producers
  • retail food outlet (specifically a retail grocery and/or local restaurant)
  • educational institutions
  • emergency food providers
  • a nongovernmental organization or researcher working in the area of health, nutrition or medical care
  • a nongovernmental organization or researcher working in the area of local food systems and/or sustainable agriculture
  • a Missoula city/county established farmer’s market
  • a food-related, non-farm business
  • the youth community and other related fields of expertise required to accomplish the purpose of the advisory board

“I look forward to the Food Policy Advisory Board supporting existing community efforts and creating systemic change, on the city and county level,” said City Council Member Heidi West, who sponsored the initiative for the city. “This board has the potential to lead to improvements for all components of the local food and agriculture network while also resulting in policy to further existing goals around health equity, climate change resiliency and zero-waste goals.”

Meetings will be held from 3:30 to 5 p.m. on the third Monday of every month at the Missoula County Administration Building. Those interested in serving on the Food Policy Advisory Board and who represent one of the areas of expertise can apply for both city and county appointments online at or at the Commissioners’ Office at 199 W. Pine St. The deadline for all applications is Saturday, March 28.

Missoula City-County Health Department asks travelers to call as coronavirus preparations continue

Coronavirus

The Missoula City-County Health Department’s infectious disease and emergency preparedness teams, along with local and state partners, are continuing to monitor the COVID-19 situation overseas and in the United States and have created a response plan should any cases be confirmed in Missoula County.

“We’ve increased communications with the state, local hospitals, clinics and emergency responders, and we also designated staff to monitor information daily. Our team also created targeted messaging for groups, such as medical providers,” said Cindy Farr, incident commander for the county’s response team. “We’ve used preparedness exercises to test our response plan and are taking proactive steps to make sure the public has the necessary information.”

The department also urges Missoula County residents who have traveled to China, Italy, South Korea, Japan or Iran to contact them as soon as possible, as these countries have experienced sustained or widespread COVID-19 cases.

“If anyone has recently visited the countries of concern, we need them to talk to the health department,” Farr said. “We want to make sure they don’t develop symptoms.”

People who have traveled to the affected countries in the last 14 days should call 406-258-3896.

While Missoula County currently does not have any cases, the health department encourages the public to take the following basic precautions:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are ill.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Frequently clean and disinfect surfaces with regular household cleaners.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the restroom, before eating, and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
  • If soap and water are not available for handwashing, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Do not travel to areas identified as being at elevated risk for the virus.

The department also encourages people to watch for symptoms such as a fever greater than 100.4 F, coughing, and difficulty breathing. Those who do develop symptoms should call their medical provider and stay home except to receive medical treatment. Farr also said that despite the hype, wearing masks is not a recommended way to prevent the disease.

“We need the public’s help at this point,” Farr said. “There’s no cause for panic, but being aware and increasing basic things like hand washing can go a long way,” Farr said.

The county also is ramping up communications and collaboration with state and local partners as the situation unfolds. Partners include the City of Missoula, the University of Montana, Missoula County Public Schools, Providence St. Patrick Hospital, Community Medical Center, Partnership Health Center and the Montana Department of Health and Human Services.

Residents with questions or concerns can call 406-258-INFO from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Accurate, updated information also is available at missoula.co/cvirus. 

Missoula County commissioners to consider placing countywide gas tax on primary ballot

Deschamps Lane
Deschamps Lane west of Missoula. Missoula County commissioners are seeking public comment as they consider adopting a resolution to place a countywide gas tax on the June 2 primary election ballot. Voters would ultimately decide whether to enact the 2 cent per gallon tax, revenue from which would fund road maintenance and improvements.

Missoula County commissioners are seeking public comment as they consider adopting a resolution to place a countywide gas tax on the June 2 primary election ballot. Missoula County voters would ultimately decide whether to enact the 2 cent per gallon tax, revenue from which would fund road maintenance and improvements.

The first public hearing on the issue will be at the commissioners’ public meeting at 2 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27, in the Sophie Moiese Room at the Missoula County Courthouse. The board will take constituent comments until the public meeting at 2 p.m. Thursday, March 5, when they will vote on whether to adopt the resolution.

In addition to attending the meetings, the public can submit comment by calling 406-258-4877 or emailing bcc@missoulacounty.us.

If adopted, commissioners will sign the resolution at a special administrative public meeting at 3 p.m. Monday, March 9, in Administration Building Room 206 so it can be delivered to the Elections Office by the 5 p.m. filing deadline.

In an effort to pursue revenue sources beyond increasing property taxes, Commissioner Josh Slotnick has worked on this initiative with the City of Missoula and a recently formed local advocacy group over the past several months. Figures estimated by staff indicate a 2-cent per gallon tax would generate an estimated $1.1 million, which would be split equally between Missoula County and the City of Missoula to pay for construction, reconstruction, maintenance and repair of public roads. Estimates show that non-residents visiting the county would generate around $400,000 of the total revenue.

Montana Code Annotated 7-14-301 through 7-14-304 gives county commissioners authority to adopt a resolution placing a local option fuel tax on the ballot. If approved by voters, the tax must be imposed in increments of 1 cent per gallon and cannot exceed 2 cents per gallon. Revenue derived from the tax must be divided among the county and municipalities in the county according to one of the methods outlined in MCA 7-14-303. Missoula is the only incorporated municipality in Missoula County.

Missoula County to dedicate CSKT flag, Native artwork at courthouse ceremony

CSKT flag

Missoula County commissioners and members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ Tribal Council will hold a flag and artwork dedication ceremony at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 19, in the Sophie Moiese Room at the Missoula County Courthouse.

The ceremony, which is open to the public, will recognize the county and tribes’ longstanding relationship and honor that present-day Missoula County is located on the aboriginal lands that the Salish people inhabited until the U.S. government forcibly removed them to the Flathead Reservation in 1891. The southeastern edge of the reservation also overlaps with Missoula County.

Following opening remarks from Commissioner Dave Strohmaier and CSKT Tribal Council Chairwoman Shelly Fyant, Séliš-Ql̓ispé Culture Committee Director Tony Incashola will lead the dedication. Tribal drum group Yamncut will perform, and the CSKT Veterans Warrior Society will present the flag, which the tribal council gifted to the county. It will stand alongside the U.S. and Montana flags at the head of the room.

“Missoula County respects the sovereignty of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and feel it is long overdue that we honor our government-to-government relations with the tribes by displaying the Flathead Nation’s flag in the commissioners’ public hearing room,” Strohmaier said.

“This dedication is an important moment in our history,” Fyant said. “Our Tribal Council relishes the support and friendship offered by Missoula County and hopes it serves as a model statewide for improved relations between tribal governments and counties. We thrive as a community when we find ways to work together.”

Jaune Quick to See Smith artwork
A 1996 lithograph, “Survival Series: Tribe/Community,” is one of two pieces by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith currently installed in the Sophie Moiese Room at the Missoula County Courthouse. 

The ceremony also will include dedication of the artwork by Salish artist Jaune Quick-to-See Smith currently on display in the room. The two pieces, “Nature/Medicine” and “Tribe/Community,” are on loan through the Missoula Art Museum’s Art in Public Places program. MAM Executive Director Laura Millin will share insights about Smith and her work. Smith, who was born in St. Ignatius and is an enrolled CSKT member, now resides in New Mexico.

Commissioners have made it a priority in recent years to honor and foster the relationship the county has with CSKT. Leaders from the two governments meet at least once a year, and in November 2018, commissioners named their public meeting room in honor of Sophie Moiese, one of the most highly respected Salish cultural leaders of the 19th and 20th centuries.