COVID-19 remains a matter of great concern for Montana medical and public health communities. As of mid-June, Montana’s COVID-19 case rates [lnks.gd] are the lowest in the continental U.S.; yet disease prevention remains the state’s top priority. Robust testing efforts are underway in Montana. The State of Montana is conducting sentinel surveillance among those living in high-risk settings such as nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and correctional facilities, among others. Rapid, effective contact tracing, a cornerstone of infectious disease prevention, can quickly identify exposed contacts of those infected with COVID-19 resulting in timely quarantine or isolation, thereby preventing disease spread.
The community should strive to provide excellent examples of how to mitigate risk in every setting from schools, to businesses, and even healthcare. It is important that individuals understand their risk of acquiring COVID-19. Certain populations are more vulnerable to severe infection. People 65 years or older and those living in a nursing home or long-term care facility are at greater risk for severe illness. People may have medical conditions that confer higher risk, including those with chronic lung disease such as asthma or heart conditions. Individuals who are immunocompromised, have diabetes or liver disease and those who are undergoing dialysis because of chronic kidney disease are also at increased risk compared to the general population.
People with poorly controlled underlying medical conditions are at even higher risk for severe disease. This is an opportune time to make sure any chronic diseases are well controlled. Everyone should make sure they are up to date on their vaccines. This fall, get your flu vaccine and don’t delay. In this time of stress and uncertainty all people, but particularly those with mental health conditions, may be vulnerable and would benefit from increased psychosocial support. People should know that Montana-specific Crisis Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder resources [lnks.gd] are available.
As public health officials, we cannot emphasize enough how important it is to stay home if you feel at all sick. And please remember, if a public health professional orders an individual to quarantine or isolate due to COVID-19 exposure, follow those orders. We all agree that people shouldn’t drive under the influence of alcohol as they can harm themselves and others. For the same reasons, we don’t want someone who could be infectious in the community where they may cause unintended harm to others.
Remember that people may spread the virus before they even show symptoms. We often do not know the underlying health conditions of our friends, colleagues, and neighbors. Right now, we need to live as if we might have the virus and the people around us might have the virus. Businesses are working to mitigate risk for their employees and customers. Schools are working to mitigate risk as we look towards a new school year. All of us are educating family, friends and community members that the intent of wearing a face covering in public is to protect others. Let's make wearing a face covering the norm in Montana, so when visitors come to our state, they know this is the norm around here and they should follow suit.
We need to learn how to minimize our risk as we continue to live our lives with COVID-19 in the community. We are all in this together. It is not simply an issue of supporting health or the economy. We need good health to have a prosperous economy, too. It is only if we all work together that we can keep Montana healthy – mentally, physically, and economically.
Hillary Hanson, MPH, MS
Flathead City-County Health
Chair of the Association of Montana Public Health Officers
Emily Colomeda, MPH, RN
Lake County Public Health
President of Montana Public Health Association
Maggie Cook-Shimanek, MD, MPH
Department of Public Health and Human Services / Department of Labor and Industry
Greg Holzman, MD, MPH
Department of Public Health and Human Services – State Medical Officer