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Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAMS This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion, when viewed electron microscopically. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

The Glacier County Health Department (GCHD) confirmed late Friday afternoon, June 19, a female, age 60-69, is the county’s newest COVID-19 case. 

Two cases were also confirmed in Toole County, ages 70-79. According to the Toole County Health Department, those cases are believed to be related to in state travel. 

As of Monday, there were 734 confirmed cases in Montana. A total of  72,970 tests have been administered and 13 patients remain hospitalized. A total of 550 of the cases are listed as recovered. Twenty Montanans have died from the COVID-19 virus.

“As we move through Montana’s reopening plan, more businesses open, travel increases, as well as, increasing testing capabilities, we have expected to see an increased number of COVID cases,” stated Jenny Krapf, GCHD Interim Director.

Krapf continued, “We want to assure the community that we investigate any risk of exposure. All positive cases are notified and immediately placed in isolation. We conduct a thorough investigation to identify all close contacts. We will coordinate testing for those that are determined to be close contacts of positive cases and they will be placed in quarantine.”

Glacier County’s latest confirmed case is not hospitalized and she is currently recovering at home, shared Krapf.

When asked why the GCHD can’t share any other information about the last case, Krapf provided this explanation.

The Glacier County Health Department strictly adheres to the privacy rules laid out in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (commonly referred to as HIPAA). Montana has its own set of privacy laws, the Government Health Care Information Act, which are even more restrictive about what health departments are able to share. These laws are determined at state and federal levels and prevent us from disclosing any of our patients’ personally identifiable information to the public.

While some details may seem minor, such as the town someone lives in or where they have traveled, those details could in fact be enough to identify the patient. If the health department disclosed that a case lived in a specific town, almost any town in Montana is small enough that community members could say, “Well, I live in Cut Bank or Browning, and the only person I’ve seen with a cough for two weeks is my neighbor Jim. Jim has COVID!”

Krapf pointed out, “The GCHD wants patients to trust that it will not share any of their information or anything that could potentially reveal their identity. It is possible that someone with COVID-19 could be ostracized. Anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 needs to be able to trust that they can cooperate with GCHD without fear of backlash or judgment from the community.”

She added, “If a patient doesn’t trust the GCHD enough to cooperate fully with the contact investigation, then its staff will not be able to track down everyone who could have been exposed. So, rest assured, if you ever test positive for COVID-19, the GCHD will not release any information that could compromise your privacy.”

Krapf reminds residents to continue to follow the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

•Vulnerable individuals are encouraged to follow the stay-at-home guidelines. Krapf noted the long term care and assisted living facilities in Cut Bank continue to surveillance test their staff and residents.

•Social distance, staying at least six feet apart from other people when possible.

•Wear a cloth face covering if you are able, especially when social distancing is difficult. It is important to wear the face covering correctly: nose and mouth should be completely covered, it should fit snug, but you shouldn’t have difficulty breathing.

•Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not readily available. 

Glacier County DES has received the hand sanitizer and is currently working on scheduling days in each community in Glacier County to distribute to individuals and businesses. Dates, times and location for distribution will be publicized soon. For questions, contact Glacier County DES Coordinator Lanaina Upham at 873-2084. Upham will be at the old Eagle Shield Center on June 24 (see information below) to distribute hand sanitizer. Please bring your own container.

•Stay home when you are sick.

There are currently several testing sites available in Glacier County, said Krapf.  

•Northern Rockies Medical Center (NRMC): If you have symptoms or have had close contact with a confirmed case, please call your provider at NRMC first to discuss your symptoms.

•Glacier Community Health Center (GCHC): Surveillance testing is currently being offered for registered patients. For more information, call 873-5670. 

•Blackfeet Community Hospital: Drive-through testing is available for individuals with symptoms or close contacts of confirmed cases. Testing is being done Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

•Blackfeet Tribe continues to provide surveillance testing to all residents of the county, not just Native Americans, stated Eileen Henderson, Acting Public Information Officer for the Blackfeet Tribe. 

The next testing sites will be held on:

June 24 at the old Eagle Shields in Browning from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

July 1 in Seville by the old Casino from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

July 8 at the old Eagle Shields in Browning from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

For more information on the testing, please call 338-7912.

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