In light of federal public health officials declaring coronavirus a public health emergency Friday, Montana officials are gearing up county and tribal public health departments to monitor people flying in from China.
Federal public health officials announced that U.S. citizens returning from China’s Hubei Province, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, would be subject to 14-day quarantines. People returning from mainland China would be closely monitored for the same amount of time.
In addition, the U.S. is temporarily suspending entry of most travelers arriving from China, or who have recently been in China, if they are not U.S. citizens.
Jim Murphy with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services says the department has been telling the state’s 58 county and tribal health departments to gear up for monitoring at-risk residents.
"We’re waiting for further federal guidance on the level of the monitoring that is going to have to be employed on people returning from mainland China and particularly Hubei Province."
Murphy explains that once that guidance is out, state health officials will heavily rely on federal agencies to alert them about at-risk residents returning to the state. He says that information will be passed onto county and tribal health departments, which will coordinate with local providers to monitor them.
Murphy says the state isn’t currently monitoring anyone, but he says that could change.
"It is surprising, there’s always people returning from China coming back to Montana. We’ll be monitoring those people. If we’re doing that right, even if somebody comes back and becomes ill, we should have them already being monitored and in a way that poses minimal risk to anybody else."
Jennifer Rankosky with the Flathead City County Health Department says her local public health workers have ramped up their communications with local providers.
"By and large, we communicate with our partner agencies on a weekly basis anyway. So it’s just ramped up a little as we’re trying to figure out what Coronavirus is going to do."
Rankosky says the county has set up a hotline with information and is encouraging anyone feeling ill after coming into contact with someone from Hubei Province to first call their provider to assess their risk. Rankosky and other health officials stress risk in Montana is still low.