Instances of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) had been reported in a few dozen states as of March 8, but not in Montana. Meanwhile, worldwide more than 100,000 infected people and over 3,600 deaths had been reported in 101 countries, according to the World Health Organization Situation Report, and the United States had the fifth-highest number of reported deaths behind China (3,100), Italy (234), Iran (145), and Korea (50).
Despite the lack of reported cases in Montana, residents are advised to follow precautions set out by health experts. These precautions may seem to change often, but the main message is to stay home if you are even mildly ill. If you need medical care, call ahead to alert the clinic, urgent care or hospital that you are coming in. People returning from a heavily affected area such as China, Italy, Iran, Korea or Japan, or who have been around a person confirmed to be infected with COVID-19, are being told to stay home for 14 days during the incubation period of COVID-19 to avoid potentially spreading it to others.
Who is at risk?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, older adults and people who have serious chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and lung disease are at the highest risk for contracting a severe case of COVID-19. So far there is no vaccine available to prevent COVID-19 and no antiviral medication to treat it, only supportive care for those who need medical attention.
Because experts say that many people who are infected get mild symptoms but can still spread the virus, we all need to use basic preventative measures to help slow the spread of this disease. At this point, avoiding any infections in Montana does not sound realistic, but the goal of prevention is to slow the spread and to protect those at higher risk for severe disease. Doing so would help reduce the burden on medical facilities to allow them to care for the patients who are most ill.
These preventative measures are:
- Staying home while sick, even mildly sick. This is formally called isolation, because we isolate ourselves from people outside and even inside our homes by going to our room to rest and recuperate.
- Practicing good hygiene: Everyone must regularly wash their hands with soap and water (whether sick or not); avoid touching their eyes, nose or mouth; and cover coughs and sneezes with an elbow, shirt collar or tissue (and then washing hands again). Make sure the tissue goes straight into the garbage, not on a counter, desk or other nearby surface.
- Cleaning your environment: This is the regular cleaning of “high touch” surfaces. The CDC has posted instructions at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/home/cleaning-disinfection.html. If you don’t have disinfecting wipes, grab a bucket and a cloth and mix 1/3 cup bleach per gallon of water or 4 teaspoons per quart. Mix a fresh solution daily, because it loses potency over 24 hours. If a surface is soiled, clean it with soap and water first.
There are other measures that can slow the spread of the disease. Local health boards have the authority to temporarily close or postpone events where large gatherings of people occur, though only after consulting with the Department of Public Health and Human Services and disease experts.
What else can you do? Prepare yourself and home first, then consider how you can help your community. Volunteer for the Red Cross, train in CPR and First Aid, or volunteer for the local ambulance services, even as a driver. If your church or civic group has organized volunteers, join with them. Also, call the Jefferson County Health Department at 406-225-4031 and get on a list to volunteer in case we need extra people to run a vaccination clinic next year. Consider people you know who might need help – a neighbor or church member – and check in with them to see if there’s any way you can help them prepare.
Go to Ready.gov and www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/index.html for more information on preparedness for your home or business.
Karen Wandel is public health supervisor for Jefferson County. For more information call her at 406-225-4009.