031820 Doug Dodge and Karen Wandel

Doug Dodge, Jefferson County’s director of emergency services, and County Public Health Supervisor Karen Wandel, at a special meeting of county officials on March 16 to plan the county's response to COVID-19. 

Jefferson County has managed to keep the number of COVID-19 cases down to two, and it’s been a few weeks since those individuals — a man and a woman — tested positive, said Karen Wandel, RN, department supervisor for Jefferson County Public Health. 

The virus hasn’t spread because the two have done a good job of isolating themselves from others, she said last week in a phone interview.

However, it is not known how at least one of the individuals got the virus, as he didn’t have many contacts, said Wandel, adding that both individuals have recovered and did not need to be hospitalized. 

The man is in the 50-59 age range and the woman in the 40-49 age range, according to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. Wandel declined to specify where in the county the two people reside.

Jefferson County’s case count is also low because the virus has not popped up in any of the long-term care facilities here, as that’s when the number of cases really begins to rise, said Wandel, adding that those facilities have done a good job of screening their employees and urging them to stay home when sick. 

As of April 20, there have been 37 individuals tested in Jefferson County, with the two positive cases. 

Statewide, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services had reported 433 cases and 12 deaths as of April 20, with the most cases in Gallatin County with 143, followed by Yellowstone at 72. 

Wandel believes Gov. Steve Bullock’s directives, such as closing schools and some businesses, as well as requiring a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine period for those arriving in the state, has helped contain the spread of the virus. 

However, there are exceptions to some of the rules, such as waiving the mandatory quarantine for those who arrive in Montana for work, which could bring possible exposures, she said. 

Wandel said the county’s Public Health Department’s job is to conduct contact tracings, that is, find out who a COVID-19 positive patient has had contact with in order to figure out how he or she was infected, and to who he or she could have subsequently spread the disease. 

To determine the origin of an infection, investigators begin with the day of the interview and go back 14 days, said Wandel.

“You hope someone has symptoms,” said Wandel, emphasizing that some folks are asymptomatic or have such mild symptoms that they may not realize they have the disease and therefore can unknowingly spread it to others. 

The investigator questions the individual on where they have been and what they have done to help determine who may have been exposed. 

Exposure generally requires some amount of contact with a COVID-19 positive person, such as 10 to 30 minutes in a situation where there was no mask being worn and within six feet of an infected person, said Wandel, adding that she hasn’t heard of anyone catching the coronavirus from the grocery store.

That doesn’t mean people should take this lightly and everyone should continue to respect the contagious nature of this virus, she said. 

To trace those who a person may have infected, the investigators concentrate on the previous 48 hours from when symptoms appeared, said Wandel.

That is, if someone has had symptoms for seven days, an investigator will go back nine days, she said. 

All of this brings home the message that folks need to wash their hands with soap and water, use hand sanitizer when that isn’t available, as well as sanitize high touch surfaces and maintain at least six feet of distance — in all directions — from others, said Wandel. 

Until there is a treatment or vaccine, this virus will remain a threat as things begin to reopen.

“The risk is going to continue,” she said.


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