Restrictions prompted by health concerns

by Heidi Desch
Whitefish Pilot | March 18, 2020 1:00 AM

A number of restrictions, closures, modifications and cancellations are resulting around Whitefish and the Flathead Valley in response to the coronavirus.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock on March 12 declared a state of emergency for the state related to the coronavirus.

“Now is the time to plan, not to panic. Our state has been preparing for coronavirus to come to Montana and we will be prepared to respond all along the way,” Bullock said in a release. “Just like we do when any challenging situation hits our communities, we stick together to make sure that we mitigate the impact, that we have an appropriate response, and that we slow the spread.”

The emergency order allows the governor to direct a coordinated response to an outbreak of communicable disease, which includes mobilizing all available state resources, such as emergency funds or personnel from the National Guard.

As of presstime, no cases of the coronavirus had been confirmed in Flathead County and nine people in the state had tested positive. There have been more than 300 tested for the virus.

The Flathead City-County Health Department is collaborating with organizations at the federal, state and local level in regards to the virus.

Flathead County Commissioners March 13 designated Hillary Hanson, Flathead County Health Officer, to serve as the incident commander for the response in Flathead County.

Hanson said the health department has been working hard to prepare for the virus.

“While there are no cases in Flathead County, at this time, this delegation from the commissioners provides us the ability to enhance our preparation,” Hanson said. “In the event we have a local case, we can act quickly to identify and protect our community.”

Heath officials are encouraging social distancing — avoiding others by staying at least 6 feet apart and staying home. Folks are also asked to wash hands frequently and avoid touching their face, and regularly clean and disinfect touched objects and surfaces.

Those with signs of illness, in particular, are asked to remain at home and contact their healthcare provider by phone.

The health department has established an information-only hotline for the community to learn updates, which can be reached at (406) 751-8188. A website has also been established to provides guidance to the general public at https://flatheadhealth.org/novel-coronavirus-covid-19/.

Kalispell Regional Healthcare

Kalispell Regional Healthcare recently instituted a hospital incident command structure that it says allows hospitals to adjust business operations while working with health officials to ensure that medical activities are shaped to address all pandemic impacts.

“Protecting our patients, our employees and our community is our highest priority,” said KRH Chief Medical Officer Dr. Doug Nelson. “We are taking important steps to help stop the transmission of [the coronavirus], which is critical in keeping you safe. Hospital operations are continually being adjusted to ensure our personnel and physicians are prepared to meet those situations that a pandemic environment can exacerbate. This is a very fluid situation here and across the country.”

KRH has expanded its visitor restrictions at Kalispell Regional Medical Center, The HealthCenter and North Valley Hospital. Visitors are not allowed at these facilities, and exceptions are only made for parents, end of life situations and essential caregivers.

The Summit Medical Fitness Center in Kalispell is also closed until further notice, but clinical therapy offices at the Summit will continue to operate.

For more information, visit krh.org/covid-19

North Valley Food Bank

North Valley Food Bank is anticipating a significant uptick in emergency food needs with schools and businesses being closed. The food bank worked over the weekend to develop a plan to continue providing services to the community.

Operations will remain the same for the food bank, with weekly distribution remaining the same on Wednesdays from 3-6 p.m. and Thursday from noon to 3 p.m.

Distributions will be held outside and are designed to ensure that no person-to-person contact occurs.

“We are designing our operations with a 6 to 8 foot distance between all people at all times,” Executive Director Jessy Lee said.

For any customer that suspects they may be sick, the food bank asks that they call ahead to make arrangements for outside food pickup or food delivery.

In addition, the facility and distribution areas will be sanitized each hour, and volunteers will be provided gloves.

Lee said the food bank staff and board are working hard to address issues related to the coronavirus.

“I want our customers to know that we have enough food for everyone and we will work hard to make sure that remains true,” Lee said. “We appreciate all of the support pouring in at this time.”

At this time, the food bank has asked that any volunteer over the age of 60 to not come into the food bank. However, this reduces the weekly volunteer work force for the food bank by 70%.

Thus, the food bank is seeking young community members to step in at this time.

Financial donations to the food bank can be made online, and donations can be made to their outdoor donation box. Essential pantry items include peanut butter, tuna, canned soups, soap, hand sanitizer and toilet paper.

For questions, call 862-5863, email director@northvalleyfoodbank.org or visit www.northvalleyfoodbank.org

Whitefish Community Library

The Whitefish Community Library closed beginning Monday, March 16 and expects to remain closed at least through March 30.

“The safety and health of our staff and patrons is our utmost concern,” said Joey Kositzky, director of the library.

The library says that it is extending the pickup date for all on hold items until they re-open and staff will still be available to respond to phone messages.

Whitefish Community Center

The Whitefish Community Center will be closed to the public for four weeks, to help stop the advance of the corona virus. The center plans to re-open on Monday, April 13. During the closure there will be no programs, classes, social lunches, or rentals.

The center will continue its Meal on Wheels service. If you know of someone, 60 or older, that could use meal assistance during this time, have them reach out to the Agency on Aging, Meals on Wheels at 758-5710.

Care facilities

The Montana Veterans Home in Columbia Falls has closed to visitors.

The Springs at Whitefish is limiting the number of activities scheduled to reduce the chances of cross-contamination and has eliminated non-essential visitation.

Also, it has adopted some temporary changes such as removing resident salad bars and shared coffee service, eliminating pre-set dining utensils and limiting access to the dining hall for non-diners.

The Brendan House in Kalispell is restricting all visitors to protect residents from potential coronavirus exposure.

The Wave

The Wave fitness center is temporarily closing in response to the coronavirus through March 31. It plans to re-open on Wednesday, April 1.

“We did not make this decision lightly, but given the circumstances we believe it is the most responsible way to control the [coronavirus] outbreak in our community,” the Wave said in an email to its members. “Our overarching concern is the health of our Wave community.”

The Wave said it is offering virtual classes free to its members during the closure and will provide credit to member dues accordingly.

For more information, call 862-2444 or visit http://www.whitefishwave.com/

Thrift Haus

Soroptimist of Whitefish has made the decision to close the Thrift Haus until April 4.

Donations will still be accepted Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 4 p.m.

All club meetings are also suspended and the Jewelry Sale that had been planned for April 4 is being postponed until a later date.

“This is not an easy decision to make however, it is for the best interest of our local community that we follow the advice of health officials,” said Soroptimist President Bonnie Baker.

Flathead Electric Co-op

Flathead Electric Cooperative’s Board of Trustees has canceled the 2020 annual meeting that had been scheduled for March 21.

“The safety and continued health of our members, employees, and the community is at the forefront of our decision,” said FEC General Manager Mark Johnson, noting that public health officials across the nation have recommended limiting large gatherings.

The Cooperative’s mail-in election will still take place. FEC members will receive ballots the week of March 23. Completed ballots should be mailed in the pre-addressed enclosed envelop to Survey & Ballot Systems, the Co-op’s independent election processing company. Ballots should not be returned to Flathead Electric Co-op office. Ballots received at the SBS office on or before April 9 by 5 p.m. will be counted.

Also in response, effective immediately, the Co-op’s offices in Kalispell and Libby are temporarily closed to the public.

“We provide a critical service,” says General Manager Mark Johnson. “That’s why we’re taking all reasonable and prudent steps to ensure the health of our employees so we can continue meeting the needs of our members through this period of uncertainty.”

While the offices are closed, FEC members can utilize one of the Co-op’s other fee-free options to pay their electric bill or manage their account including payment kiosks and drop boxes at both the Kalispell and Libby locations, drive-thru open until 5:30 p.m. in Kalispell, online payments through the FEC website or mobile app, the pay-by-phone system (available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 406-751-1839 or 877-761-4637). For assistance with any of these services, members can call 406-751-4483.

Flathead Electric Cooperative members service representatives will be available throughout this time to assist members who are impacted by the pandemic situation. Those members are asked to reach out to Flathead Electric Cooperative if they need bill assistance.

For more information, visit https://www.flatheadelectric.com/

Glacier Medical Associates

The clinic will operate normal hours for regularly scheduled patients, but patients should expect to have their temperature checked prior to entering the clinic. Patients are encouraged to maintain at least 6 feet apart.

Because of changes, patients are asked to arrive at least 10 minutes early for appointments.

Medical staff will be screening patients in their cars for fevers and respiratory symptoms. Anyone with a fever or respiratory symptoms will be given a mask and asked to wait in their car until they are assessed by a medical provider.

Also, depending on symptoms, patients may be evaluated in your car, directed to a designated portion of the clinic for urgent care patients who need further evaluation or set up for a telemedicine visit

For more information, call 862-2515 or visit https://www.glaciermedicalassociates.com/