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Coronavirus Puts State Health Officials On Alert

A microscopic view of the COVID-19 virus

The COVID-19 virus has officials with the Montana Department of Health and Human Services hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.

Jim Murphy, chief of the agency’s Communicable Disease Bureau, said there’s currently a low risk of infection in the United States.

“However, we know that may not be the case much longer," he said. "We’re trying to prepare for what could be coming our way.”

Murphy spoke with Montana Public Radio as President Donald Trump held a press conference in which he said the U.S government is “very, very ready” for whatever the new coronavirus threat brings.

Murphy said American health officials are contending with plenty of unanswered questions, including how the virus spreads and what the most effective treatments are.

"What we do in these situations is we try to watch very closely what’s happening in other parts of the world," he said. "We’re fortunate not to be the first area impacted, so we can learn a lot from what is working in other areas and then try to figure out how to apply those things here.”

Murphy noted U.S health officials are at least better positioned than their Chinese counterparts to slow the spread of the COVID-19 strain. But, he added, even one confirmed case could significantly drain resources in Montana.

“Right now, a single case would be overwhelming to a local jurisdiction and really test our systems,” he said.

Murphy advised Montanans to avoid sick people, wash their hands frequently, cover coughs and sneezes and, if sick, stay away from work or school.

O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the University of Montana School of Journalism. His first career job out of school was covering the 1995 Montana Legislature. When the session wrapped up, O’Brien was fortunate enough to land a full-time position at the station as a general assignment reporter. Feel free to drop him a line at
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