Update: Details released regarding Flathead patients who tested positive for coronavirus

by Heidi Desch
Whitefish Pilot | March 21, 2020 10:41 AM

One of the two people who have tested positive for the coronavirus in Flathead County is a physician at Kalispell Regional Healthcare. The second is a resident of Illinois.

Both patients are in isolation at home and all the individuals they may have come into contact with have been notified, the Flathead City-County Health Department and Kalispell Regional Healthcare said during a joint press conference on Saturday morning.

The announcement that Flathead County had its first two positive tests for the virus came late Friday after the health department received notice of the positive tests from the state Department of Public Health and Human Services.

The Illinois resident is a male in his 50s. The physician is a male in his 30s who had recently traveled out of the area by vehicle.

Dr. Jeffrey Tjaden, an infectious disease physician with KRH, said the physician who tested positive traveled between March 11 and 13, and came to work on March 16 when he developed a soar throat. The physician did not have a fever and was allowed to continue to work while wearing a mask and gloves through March 18 until he tested positive for the virus.

Tjaden noted that the physician works in a limited area of the hospital, but had contact with 14 patients and nine fellow healthcare workers. Areas where the physician was working have been cleaned, KRH noted, and those who had contact with the physician continue to be monitored.

KRH Chief Medical Officer Dr. Doug Nelson said the hospital continues to use caution, doing interventions and containment strategies that it has been preparing for weeks.

He noted that travel restrictions for KRH employees now include a 14-day quarantine for those that travel outside the adjoining counties to Flathead.

“Our travel restrictions are more stringent than the [U.S.] Center for Disease Control] guidelines,” he said.

Nelson said testing guidelines have changed over time, but first responders and those who have come into contact with a patient who has tested positive and have symptoms are being prioritized for testing.

“There is no indication of person to person transmission in the Flathead Valley at this time and that’s good thing,” he said.

As of Saturday morning there were 20 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Montana. In addition to Flathead, counties in Montana with confirmed cases now include Broadwater,

Gallatin, Lake, Lewis and Clark, Madison, Missoula, Roosevelt County, Silver Bow and Yellowstone.

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

Symptoms of the coronavirus include fever, shortness of breath and coughing, and these may occur up to 14 days after exposure, according to the CDC. Those with signs of illness, in particular, are asked to remain at home and contact their healthcare provider by phone.

“Please do your part to ensure that this isn’t spread,” said Hillary Hanson, Flathead County Health Officer. “Please use social distancing and stay inside.”

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock on March 12 declared a state of emergency for the state related to the coronavirus. Whitefish Mayor John Muhlfeld on March 19 also declared a state of emergency for the city related to the virus.

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/.