BILLINGS — At a Yellowstone County Commissioners meeting Monday, RiverStone Health officials announced a new hotline, 406-651-6415, for questions about the coronavirus.
“Driving people towards good information is critical," RiverStone CEO John Felton told Yellowstone County commissioners during an update on local and statewide prevention efforts against the coronavirus, known as COVID-19.
While the city/county health department's hotline isn't staffed 24/7, Felton said people can leave a message and someone will get back to callers.
Other public spaces that see a lot of traffic like the YMCA, Billings Public Library and Billings Logan International Airport are all getting a deep clean.
As of Monday night, the Centers for Disease Control reports 423 confirmed cases of COVID-19 that resulted in 19 deaths across 35 states including the District of Columbia. Montana has no confirmed cases.
Felton pointed towards riverstonehealth.org and cdc.gov to get the most accurate information on prevention, case numbers and locations. What constitutes state of the art treatment for COVID-19 changes day by day, because this is the first time doctors have experienced treating it.
“There is a lot of misinformation out there. There’s a lot of rumor, there’s a lot of stories ... What we really encourage people to do is to go to reliable sources," Felton said.
RiverStone Health is part of the local unified health command that also includes the Billings Clinic, St. Vincent Hospital, and Yellowstone County Disaster and Emergency Services. Representatives from each group meet three times a week to discuss preventing COVID-19's spread and preparing for when it eventually comes to Montana.
“We have no cases, so we haven’t made it to response yet. But we’re really focusing on prevention and preparedness,” Felton said.
In its preparation, the unified health command has been focused on minimizing the risk of infection. At Billings Clinic, St. V's and RiverStone, staff have placed visitor restrictions for patients with respiratory illnesses and have asked smaller clinics to do the same.
The hospitals are also placing out-of-state, air-travel restrictions on their staff and are finding other ways to hold business meetings without meeting in person.
"We’ve said that all air-related business travel is suspended. In state, we’re asking people to use their best judgment,” Felton said.
Local hospitals are also doing a community-wide inventory on personal protective equipment such as face masks and gloves to make sure there are enough to go around.
City of Billings staff say they have been working to sanitize public spaces, incluing the Billings Logan International Airport and Billings Public Library.
“Our facilities folks have been working over the past days and weeks to step up the sanitizing of surfaces and spaces that are frequented by the public. Making sure we’ve got supplies, which we are okay right now," Billings City Administrator Chris Kukulski at a Monday meeting.
Billings Mayor Bill Cole said the city may cancel upcoming large gatherings but gave no indication of which ones.
"The city is being proactive in developing protocols for this serious time, including the cleaning procedures but also potentially events that would have to be canceled or social distancing, as they're calling it. Just trying to keep people safe," Cole said.
At the Billings YMCA, staff already ramp up cleaning because of the regular cold and flu season. But with hundreds of people passing through the doors every day, staff are communicating the need for cleanliness.
"We have increased more communications. Asking our members to continue to wipe down equipment. Of course, wash your hands, cover your mouth. If you have the symptoms of any kind of sickness or virus to please stay home. Don't expose other people," said Billings YMCA CEO Kim Kaiser.
The YMCA also bought a hospital-grade sanitizing fog machine six months ago to use in the preschool area of the building. Childcare staff regularly wipe down the areas where children play and learn.
In all, Felton said he's proud of the community's efforts to prevent COVID-19.
“This is a very dynamic situation. There is a huge amount of time being spent on it. I’m pleased with the way our community has stepped up. We are used to working together," Felton said.