Montana Public Radio

Your Montana Coronavirus Questions Answered

Apr 24, 2020

Find answers to some of the questions you've asked us about coronavirus in Montana. Have more questions? Ask them here and we'll do our best to answer them. This post will be updated.

You can always find the latest Montana coronavirus and COVID-19 news here.

Q: Is all this hype really justified? Do we really need to distance/isolate/quarantine ourselves?

The short answer is, yes.

Public health experts say social distancing right now is the best way to slow the spread of the coronavirus so that the number of people who require medical attention doesn't overwhelm hospitals. If evidence holds from experiences in countries further along in the outbreak, most people who contract this virus will have mild cases. Still, the data from abroad indicate that 10% to 20% could end up in a more serious condition. That means if tens of millions of Americans come down with COVID-19, potentially hundreds of thousands may need hospital care. Distancing can help protect high-risk groups and lower that number.

Q: Isn't it just like the flu? We don't freak out about that every year.

Not really. Influenza is indeed deadly, but public health professionals are clear that COVID-19 presents a different, more pressing set of challenges that require a different response.

Q: But I'm young & healthy. Why should I care?

Public health is all about the public. Individual risk may be low. And, thus, the inconvenience of some of these measures may seem high. But taking steps like these will benefit the population as a whole, Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore told NPR.

"An individual who doesn't get very sick might still pass the infection along to others, including parents, neighbors, people on the bus," he notes.

Some of those people, in turn, may end up in the hospital. A surge of patients with the virus could fill beds also needed by a broad range of other people, such as cancer patients, newborns or car accident victims.

"This is a condition that may not pose a threat to the individual but a threat to the community," warns Sharfstein.

Q: What's the difference between social distancing, quarantine and isolation? Which should I be doing?

Social distancing is a broad category. It means not shaking hands, avoiding crowds, standing several feet from other people and, most important, staying home if you feel sick.

Businesses are doing it when they ask employees to work from home or stagger work hours. Governments are doing it when they close schools or limit businesses to takeout and delivery. We're seeing it in the sports world, with the cancellation of sporting events. Museums, theaters and concert halls where large groups of people gather are closing their doors.

Montana is currently under a state of emergency and officials are asking people to stay home unless you have to go out. If you do go out, keep your distance and wash & disinfect thoughly before, after and during.

Self quarantines aim to keep people who have been exposed, or who might have been exposed, away from others as much as possible for a period. That has generally meant 14 days, which is considered the incubation period of COVID-19, although symptoms can appear within a few days of exposure.

Self-monitoring might include regularly checking your temperature and watching for signs of a respiratory illness, such as fever, cough or shortness of breath, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It also involves limiting interaction with others.

Quarantine is when — under state or federal law — individuals or groups are essentially on lockdown. Recent examples include passengers from cruise ships where other passengers fell ill with COVID-19; those passengers who didn't fall ill on the ship were then required to stay at military bases for 14 days to see if they developed the disease. The U.S. hasn't closed off entire areas — such as towns or cities — since the 1918-1919 Spanish flu. But the federal government and the states do have the power to do so.

Isolation: A diagnosis of COVID-19 triggers isolation. "Isolation is when you are sick, either at home or in the hospital," says Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. "Infectious disease precautions are then much more rigid than in self-quarantine."

Learn more.

Q: What's open, what's closed, what restrictions are in place in Montana?

Updated 04/07/20

April 07, Gov. Steve Bullock extended the previous stay-at-home order and closures of schools, and some businesses.

The orders, now in effect through April 24, prohibit non-essential gatherings of 10 or more people outside of homes if social distancing can’t take place. Bullock has also directed retail stores to implement social distancing protocols that will keep customers at least six feet apart, although grocery stores, health care, medical, or pharmacy services are exempt.

This post has all the details on Montana's coronavirus closures, what's considered an essential business and what travel restrictions are in place.

Q: What's considered an "essential business" in Montana?

Updated 04/24/20

Montana will lift its stay-at-home order starting April 26. Gov. Steve Bullock says the state has flattened the curve of COVID-19 spread in the state and it's time to start reopening. But he also said during a press conference April 22, that won't happen all at once. The plan will come in phases, with phase 1 beginning April 26.

Phase one means that starting Sunday, April 26, the stay-at-home order is lifted for individuals. Groups of 10 people are still discouraged. Continued social distancing and frequent hand washing are still encouraged, and the state is asking people to continue to minimize non-essential travel.

Busineses will no longer be classified ans "essential" or "non-essential." Retail businesses can open Monday, although with health checks for workers and guidance on keeping space between customers. Bars and restaurants can reopen May 4, under new guidelines. Schools can reopen May 7. Gyms, pools and spas remain closed.

Vulnerable individuals are still encouraged by public health officials to follow stay at home guidance.

Local governments can still adopt more stringent rules at their discretion.

Find more details on the state's phased reopening plan here, and read the plan here.

Q: How many people in Montana have tested positive? How many have been tested? Is there a positive case near me?

Follow this link to find the number of cases by county, as well as the number of tests completed. You can also find more information from the Montana Department of Health and Human Services.

Keep in mind that hospitals may not always have aggregate information on age, sex or locations of those testing positive or receiving treatment. And medical privacy laws still apply, so detailed information on individual patients cannot be released without that patient's permission.

Q: Should I be wearing a mask?

Updated 04/05/20

The CDC is now recommending people consider wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. Mayors in New York City and Los Angeles have already offered similar advice to citizens. There's one big reason for the change: There is increasing evidence that the virus can be spread by presymptomatic and asymptomatic carriers. These new policies come with the vital plea that people don't use the medical-grade masks that are in short supply in hospitals right now. Learn more.

Q: If you've had it will you build up immunity against further infection?

Researchers don’t know.

"I think there's a very likely scenario where the virus comes through this year, and everyone gets some level of immunity to it, and if it comes back again, we will be protected from it — either completely or if you do get reinfected later, a year from now, then you have much less disease," says Matt Frieman, a coronavirus researcher at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.

"That is the hope," he adds. "But there is no way to know that."

But what researchers do know is that reinfection is an issue with the four seasonal coronaviruses that cause about 10 to 30% of common colds. These coronaviruses seem to be able to sicken people again and again, even though people have been exposed to them since childhood.

Q: How/how often should I wash sheets, bath towels, linens and other laundry?

If you are in contact with someone with COVID-19, wash thoroughly and immediately after each use. Here’s how:

For health professionals, if you are in contact with COVID-19, the CDC recommends that you thoroughly wash gowns/clothes in the laundry after each use.

Here's how the CDC recommends you wash linens, clothing and other items that go into the laundry:

  • Wear disposable gloves when handling dirty laundry from an ill person, and then discard the gloves after each use. If using reusable gloves, they should be dedicated for cleaning and disinfection of surfaces for COVID-19 and should not be used for other household purposes. Clean hands immediately after gloves are removed.

  • If no gloves are used when handling dirty laundry, be sure to wash your hands afterwards.

  • If possible, do not shake dirty laundry. This will minimize the possibility of dispersing the virus through the air.

  • Launder items as appropriate in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Launder items using the warmest appropriate water setting. Dry items completely. Dirty laundry from an ill person can be washed with other people’s items.

  • Clean and disinfect clothes hampers according to guidance above for surfaces. If possible, consider using a bag liner that is either disposable (can be thrown away) or can be laundered.

Q: How can I deal with the stress from this situation?

The CDC advises you to:

  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories and social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
     
  • Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep and avoid alcohol and drugs.

  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.

  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.

  • Call your healthcare provider if stress gets in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row.

  • If you, or someone you care about, are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or others call

    • 911

    • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746. (TTY 1-800-846-8517)

Learn more tips to help you regain your calm.

Have more questions? Ask them here. And find the latest Montana coronavirus and COVID-19 news here.