By A.J. Etherington
The Courier 

Emergencies Declared, Health Orders Issued

Countywide Lockdown Not In the Works

 

March 25, 2020



Measures Aimed at Preventing Over-Burdened Hospital

Valley County has declared a state of emergency as of March 17. The city followed suit on March, 19, declaring a state of emergency at a 3 p.m. emergency meeting of the City Council. The actions come after Governor Steve Bullock and President Donald Trump issued state and nationwide emergencies last week as a result of the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic that has spread to all 50 states and territories.

“The County has continued to monitor the situation and the circumstances surrounding the state of emergency closely,” said County Commissioner Mary Armstrong. She stated that the county is working with the state and the county health officer Dr. Anne Millard to make sure the county’s response is in line with the ever-changing situation.

In response to the question of whether the county could reach the point that every person is on lock down, Armstrong explained that there is “not a point in the plan right now” to make that decision. She stressed communication with the state and Dr. Millard and the changing circumstances as factors in deciding if the county will need to take that measure. She was also sensitive to the impact the decisions have had on citizens’ daily lives already and showed concern for increasing those impacts without the right circumstances.


“Hopefully, if everyone is doing what they are supposed to be doing,” stressed Armstrong, “and following the guidelines than we can avoid that [countywide lockdown].”

In Montana there are, as of March 24, 46 cases mostly in western and southern Montana with the exception of a 70-year-old woman in Froid, Mont., in neighboring Roosevelt County. None of the cases have been serious enough to warrant hospitalization.

According to the State, many have been the result of recent travel to areas that have widespread infections. It was not until earlier this week, that they determined cases in Gallatin County were the probable result of community spread—meaning the patients contracted the disease from unknown origins within Montana. A case in Billings and a case in Kallispell involved healthcare workers that had recently traveled to an out-of-state conference, while a Yellowstone County detention officer had also tested positive for the virus and a second had been tested with the results unknown at press time.

As part of their response, both Valley County and the City of Glasgow have locked offices but have kept essential services open for business. Anyone needing to utilize those services is asked to call ahead and make an appointment or handle business online or over the phone, if possible.


As an added safety measure, both of the two governments have ordered employees who have recently traveled to areas with infections to remain at home for 14 days. For employees who have already traveled through or to counties with infections, the city and county will place them on paid administrative leave for two weeks. For those who travel to those counties as of March 23, they will be sent home for two weeks but will be charged sick and vacation leave as appropriate.

Glasgow Mayor Becky Erickson commented that the city is “open for business, except for the Rec Department,” but people need to work through the telephone to set up appointments and complete their business with limited exposure to city employees. The key is the health and safety of employees and to ensure essential services can remain functioning.

The Mayor commented to the Courier that city employees’ response to the circumstances has been positive in spite of everything happening in the state. She commented, “There is good team spirit and everyone is coming to work and doing their jobs.”

In other responses to the pandemic emergency, schools have closed and nursing homes have shut down visitation alongside businesses and local, state and federal government agencies that have taken precautions to slow the spread of the disease within the county and protect employees.


Following the disaster declarations on March 19, the Valley County Health Officer Dr. Anne Millard issued a county health order that effectively shut down “bars, brew pubs, casinos, restaurants, except for drive-through, delivery and pick-up services, shall be closed to the public.” An amended order the following day, also shut down gyms, yoga studios and athletic clubs. Brick and mortar stores are limited to 10 patrons in the store while grocery stores are limited to 20 patrons, along with on-duty staff. The order will expire on April 1, at 7 p.m. but is expected to be extended until the pandemic has run its course.

Assistant Glasgow Police Chief Tyler Edward said that the department has not had to do anything in support of compliance for the order as of March 23. His observations are that everyone was doing the right thing in regards to the order and limiting public interactions.

In a livestream town hall on the Frances Mahon Deaconess Facebook page on March 21, Dr. Millard took to the internet to engage the county about the health order and the virus in general. She made the case for the bar and restaurant shut down by highlighting the measures’ intent.

The doctor pointed out that the county has a limited number of ventilators, hospital beds and other necessary medical supplies to effectively treat severe cases of COVID-19. For that reason, the county needs to take measures to slow the virus’ spread in the county in order to ensure that the hospital is not inundated with severe cases at the same time.

The most effective measures for doing so are through social distancing, which means limiting congregations of people to less than 10 persons, distancing people to more than six feet away from each other and promoting health and sanitation such as washing hands and staying home if sick.

Currently the hospital has four ventilators and the ability to use CPAP and BIPAP machines as well as manual forced air to make sure patients in “respiratory duress” maintain oxygen levels in their blood stream while fighting the disease. Currently there are no known therapeutic treatments for the virus but small studies and anecdotal evidence suggest that certain drugs already available may be effective in treating the disease.

Dr. Millard said that the most difficult aspect of treating severe cases will be transporting them to other facilities if necessary, as restrictions are already in place on how that can be done and what measures must be taken to ensure a receiving facility can take such patients.

She reiterated, “The best thing you could do is not get this disease.”

As of press time, the Center for Disease Control reported 33,404 cases and 400 deaths in the United States as of March 23.

 

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