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.

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. 

Relationship Violence Services prevention manager selected for national Culture of Health Leaders program

Kelly McGuire headshot
Kelly McGuire

Kelly McGuire, prevention manager at Relationship Violence Services (RVS), has been selected to participate in one of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s leadership programs. These programs connect leaders across the country, from every profession, sector, and field, to learn from and work with one another to create more just and thriving communities.

Specifically, Kelly will participate in the foundation’s Culture of Health Leaders program. Designed for people from all fields — from technology and business to architecture and urban planning — Culture of Health Leaders fosters cross-sector collaboration and supports leaders in their continued growth and development as agents of change for equity and health. Together, they learn new ways of thinking and leading, expanding their perspectives and accelerating their impact.

Kelly has worked in the field of domestic and sexual violence services for 12 years, nine of them at RVS. As a member of the Culture of Health Leaders’ newest cohort, Kelly will receive intensive leadership coaching and will network with other leaders across the nation in the process of learning how to use the program’s framework to bring a health equity perspective to her work to prevent domestic and sexual violence in Missoula County.

“I’m excited about networking with other people who are working to improve their communities, and I hope to bring new strategies for improving the safety and well-being of our community members back to Missoula County,” Kelly says. “In particular, this program has a strong focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, a topic that is important to me and to our department, and I look forward to gaining more skills to center those values in our work.”

When she started at RVS nine years ago, Kelly was the only prevention staffer for the department. Now, she manages a staff of three prevention educators and one part-time contractor, who provide healthy relationships and consent education across Missoula and Mineral counties. Their programming includes providing education for teachers and students in schools, focused on topics including how to know if a relationship is healthy or unhealthy, red flags for abusive behavior, boundaries, consent and respectful dating behavior. The prevention division also offers community workshops to prevent sexual violence for alcohol-serving establishments. More recently, they have been working with musicians, comedians and other local entertainers to make Missoula’s nightlife scene safer and more welcoming for everyone.

You can find out more about Relationship Violence Services programs and initiatives, and how you can bring them to your community, at http://missoula.co/rvs.