By Michelle Bigelbach
The Courier 

Coronavirus Confirmed In Montana

Limitations On Gatherings And Visiting


March 18, 2020

Four presumptively positive cases of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, were confirmed by the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) on March 13, two more cases were confirmed on March 14. while two more cases were confirmed on March 16. As of press time, these cases were located in Gallatin, Yellowstone, Silver Bow, Lewis and Clark and Missoula counties, and there are no known cases in Valley County. All tests that tested presumptively positive were sent to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) where the results will be confirmed.

After the announcement of confirmed cases, on March 15, Governor Steve Bullock announced a set of directives and guidance to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect vulnerable Montananas. In addition to closing K-12 schools for two weeks, starting March 16, he recommends the public limits all gatherings, especially those of more than 50 people in every community across the state. He is also recommending that individuals over the age of 60 or who are immunocompromised or with chronic health conditions do not participate in gatherings of more than 20 people. On March 16, President Trump updated federal guidelines and called on Americans to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people.

As large events and mass gatherings can contribute to the spread, the CDC is recommending that for the next eight weeks, organizers, whether it’s groups or individuals, cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people are more throughout the United States. It is also recommended that events of any size should only be continued if they can be carried out with adherence to guidelines for protecting vulnerable populations, hand hygiene, and social distancing. When feasible, organizers could modify events to be virtual.

Visitations in Montana’s nursing homes are also suspended except for certain compassionate care situations.

Prairie Ridge Village is closed to the public and family members for the next two weeks and will re-evaluate their visiting policies after the two-week period. The closure will also be applied to various small groups such as Bible Groups and book clubs that go on in the facility. Director Amber Swindler stated all doors will be locked and the only access into the building will be the front door, and residents/staff will have to utilize the buzzer or call 228-2208 to get in. To curb the spread and limit any possible exposure, “temperatures are taken by staff and residents twice a day as a preventative measure. In case someone spikes a fever, we can isolate right away. We have also encouraged residents not to go anywhere except for emergent necessity such as doctor’s appointments,” said Swindler. Swindler also advised the staff is limiting where they go after leaving the facility to keep residents safe. “Kudos to my team and residents. They are taking this like champs,” exclaimed Swindler.

Valley View Home is also closed to the public with signs in their entryway doors notifying visitors of this policy. “We are not allowing any visitors into the facility unless for comfort care. We are also only using essential staff, and we are about to implement office staff to work from home,” explained administrator Wes Thompson. He explained that all staff that come into the building are required to complete a full risk assessment including vital sign checks to look for elevated temperatures. Even if the person is cleared during this test, another temperature will be taken within four to six hours of entering the building. Any visitor that does come through the door will have to buzz to request a staff member and will also go through a full vital check. To limit any exposure, the dining area at the home is closed and all meals are being delivered to the resident’s door, while the activities staff is doing more one-on-one care. “I am proud to say starting March 17, our IT team will be coming by and will get Ipads to allow Facetiming with family. Doctor rounds will also be completed via telemed,” stated Thompson.

Staff at both Valley View and Prairie Ridge understand the need and want to connect with loved ones and offer to contact them via telephone, e-mail, text or video chat.

Visitations at Montana Department of Corrections (DOC) facilities have also been suspected until further notice, announced the DOC on March 13. “In an effort to mitigate the risk of introduction of the COVID-19 virus to any of the department’s facilities, we are suspecting visitation until advised we can resume regular visitation schedules,” said DOC Director Reginald Michael following Gov. Bullock’s declaration of a state of emergency.

Before cases were confirmed on March 14, Governor Bullock declared a State of Emergency on March 13. “Now is the time to plan, not to panic. Our state has been preparing for coronavirus to come to Montana and we will be prepared to respond all along the way. Just like we do when any challenging situation hits our communities, we stick together to make sure that we mitigate the impact that we have, an appropriate response, and that we slow the spread,” stated Governor Bullock. He amended the state’s state of emergency to align the effective timeframe with the federal state of emergency announced by President Trump. The emergency order allows Governor Bullock to direct a coordinated response to an outbreak of communicable disease, including mobilizing all available state resources, such as emergency funds and personnel from the National Guard while also allowing the governor to take additional steps as warranted.

On March 13, Attorney General Tom Fox cautioned Montanans about coronavirus-related scams that have been emerging in other parts of the country. “Scammers are taking advantage of coronavirus fears in other parts of the country and it’s important to be wary of con artists who want to capitalize on the uncertainty that accompanies this time of heightened concern. Montanans should be cautious of bogus claims for products to prevent or cure coronavirus, in addition to unexpected messages or offers that are suspicious,” stated Fox in a press release.

Fox also cautions Montanans about investment scams, which can occur as a result of the recent events of the stock market. He advised to watch for e-mails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or experts saying they have information about the virus. He also advises to ignore online offers for vaccinations, oils, pills, potions, lotions or lozenges that claim to prevent, treat or cure coronavirus and to do homework when it comes to making donations.

For more information on the virus in the state, contact 1-888-333-0461 or visit


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