COVID-19 testing sites are starting to open in tourism hotspots as Montana begins its Community Snapshot Testing Initiative. The program is part of the state’s effort to detect outbreaks early as it welcomes back out-of-state visitors.
Flathead Community Health Center nurse Kristin Melli walks me through the testing protocol at a newly opened community snapshot testing site just outside of Glacier National Park. I take a swab and rub it in each nostril before it’s put into a tube.
The Health Center’s Hilary Naleway is organizing the effort locally.
“We’re kind of trying to get a snapshot of our community, especially those communities that are high-tourist areas, so Glacier National Park, Whitefish,” she said.
Naleway said the state, largely with federal relief money, pays for all of her staff’s testing materials and personal protective equipment. The Community Snapshot program aims to detect outbreaks early, primarily by offering free testing for local workers interacting with tourists.
Anyone without symptoms or contact with a known COVID-19 case can get tested at sites in West Glacier and Whitefish if they choose to, according to Naleway. She added people with symptoms should call their primary care provider.
Local businesses like Glacier Guides Montana Raft are jumping on the opportunity to test their workers for free. Spokesperson Courtney Stone says its guides and other employees will be tested weekly.
“Our employees are definitely concerned,” she said. “They’re going to be out there, on the river, once or twice a day, with usually eight guests per boat…”
Stone said the testing will help make sure employees aren’t asymptomatic and spreading the virus to customers and their co-workers.
Several testing sites to capture snapshots of tourism areas have popped up in Billings, Great Falls and Butte-Silverbow County, among others. Montana Disaster and Emergency Services says new sites are starting up frequently.
The state is also offering grants of up to $5,000 to reimburse for business costs related to keeping staff and customers safe, such as the purchase of masks, cleaning supplies and remote work equipment.