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Billings-area health experts preparing for coronavirus

Posted at 7:47 PM, Feb 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-27 18:48:07-05

National and local experts say it's inevitable that the coronavirus will strike in Montana.

And Yellowstone Councy public health and medical teams are already arming up.

Local health officials gathered Friday to institute something called the Unified Health Command.

"Response is being directed by RiverStone Health, Billings Clinic, St. Vincent Healthcare, and Yellowstone County Disaster and Emergency Services. We have a structure that's in place to do that," Yellowstone County Health Officer President and CEO John Felton told Q2 Wednesday.

The combined response for all of these groups together is centered around preparation.

"The CDC's (Centers for Disease Control) sort of prediction of it's not a matter of if but when coronavirus Wuhan arrives in our country. We have systems in place for if a person comes into Yellowstone County from China who needs to be monitored. We have systems in place should someone become symptomatic while being monitored. We're currently looking at issues like, 'what's our inventory of gloves, and masks?'" Felton said.

Many of those materials are manufacturered in China, causing concerns for supply.

"What is our community supply of those materials, not just what each one of us has," Felton said.

Currently, no cases in Montana have been reported. A suspected case in Bozeman of a recent traveler from China later tested negative for the disease.

The symptoms of other seasonal illnesses are similar to coronavirus, meaning that although those in quarantine may become symptomatic, it doesn't mean that those symptoms are coronavirus.

"More than 96% of all of the Americans who have been monitored who developed symptoms and were tested over 96% do not have the Wuhan coronavirus," Felton said.

Felton also says that it is important to pick reliable sources, to reduce misinformation.

"We as a community work through our preparedness work. We are in constant contact with the CDC and the Department of Public Health and Human Services," Felton said.

"Our bigger concern right now quite frankly is influenza. There are many more cases of influenza. There have been a number of people, thousands of people who have died in the country from influenza," Felton said. "Much more prevalent... right now. The hygiene considerations are the same. Cover your cough, wash your hands, stay home if you're sick. And that's really what we want people to do for infectious disease in general. And I think those are sort of fundamental public health messages that serve us all well."

Check out the RiverStone Health website for updates on the disease.