A Roosevelt County woman in her 70s recently tested positive for the coronavirus.
Citing patient privacy rights, a spokesperson for Montana Gov. Steve Bullock’s office and a nurse with the Roosevelt County Health Department declined to provide the name or any personal details about the woman.
“I cannot provide this information due to private health,” Marissa Perry, communications director for Gov. Bullock, responded when asked the name, city and country where the Roosevelt County woman is believed to have contracted the coronavirus.
“What I can share with you is the patient is a female in their 70s and that the virus was acquired through international travel,” Perry responded to an inquiry from the Sidney Herald.
Frances Hayes, a registered nurse with the Roosevelt County Health Department, declined to discuss any details of the case.
“I have no comment,” Hayes replied when asked about the governor’s announcement. “I am bound by rules and regulations.”
A.J. Allen, public information officer for Roosevelt County, confirmed a county resident tested positive for the coronavirus. However, Allen declined to provide the woman’s name or the city in which she resides.
“We do know that there was international travel involved,” Allen told the Sidney Herald. “We do know that there [are] rumors going around — stuff like that — that we’re trying to diffuse.”
The woman was under self-quarantine as of Tuesday, March 24, Allen said, acknowledging public speculation centers on “personal type stuff, like identity.”
“I just know that she is cooperating,” Allen said, confirming the patient’s COVID-19 tests were sent to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) and confirmed as positive for the coronavirus.
“The other cases that we provided to the state have all come back negative,” said Allen, who added he does not know how many tests were sent to the state’s DPHHS.
The case in Roosevelt County, which borders Richland County, was first reported by Gov. Bullock in a press release.
“The Roosevelt County patient is a female in their 70s, acquired through international travel,” the governor stated. “The tests were conducted by the state’s DPHHS Public Health Laboratory.”
Travel Related Cases
After speaking to several public health officials and reviewing statements from government representatives, it’s apparent travel is a primary concern regarding many of Montana’s confirmed COVID-19 cases.
“This week I issued a travel advisory for Montanans who have traveled internationally to self-quarantine for 14 days after returning to Montana,” Gov. Bullock stated in a press release. “If you have traveled internationally, please self-quarantine for 14 days and contact your local health department.”
Stephanie Ler, RS, director of Environmental Health for Richland County, cited travel as one possible reason there are confirmed COVID-19 cases in other parts of Montana.
“Some of the cases on the western side of the state have been related to travel,” said Ler, who has a master’s degree in public health and also serves as Richland County’s Health Department public information officer.
As of March 24, Richland County had no reported confirmed positive cases of COVID-19.
However, Ler cautioned against speculation about why the county is faring so well — so far. She said one of the benefits of keeping detailed records and sharing information among counties throughout the state is it enables public health officials to better understand why certain areas of Montana are initially being hit harder by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Ler was decidedly cautious about discussing confirmed cases in neighboring counties.
“We’re aware there’s a case in Roosevelt County,” she said. “To our knowledge, we’re aware it’s related to international travel. Fortunately, the next closest would be Yellowstone County.”
Three of the COVID-19 cases announced by Gov. Bullock, which tested positive, are from Yellowstone County. They comprise two males and one female, all listed in their 20s.
Ler said Richland County has sent COVID-19 tests to the Montana DPHHS, but none have returned as positive.
“There have been people tested and all of these came back negative,” said Ler, who estimated Richland County’s health department has received more than 100 phone calls about the coronavirus since the outbreak hit Montana.
“We are receiving at least about one call an hour,” she said. “Those are people who are just worried about their health. We’re talking to people about not overloading the healthcare system.
“The main question being asked of callers,” Ler explained, “is, ‘Right now, if we were not in the midst of an outbreak and it was just the [regular] flu season, would you go see your healthcare provider?’”
Although the majority of callers answer, No, Ler said those who respond in the affirmative are advised to call their healthcare provider and ask to be seen.
For each call received, Ler said, Richland County Health Department representatives complete a form to document the case.
“We’ve received at least a hundred calls” in the past two weeks, Ler reported.
To her knowledge, Ler said, no one has asked about the recent case of a 70-year-old woman in Roosevelt County.
Daily COVID-19 Reports
Gov. Bullock’s office has provided daily COVID-19 updates for the media to digest and relay to the public. The governor has emphasized age and travel are primary considerations during the coronavirus outbreak, which has spread rapidly in California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, New York and Washington state, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and prevention.
“Both young and older Montanans, in urban and rural communities, have tested positive for coronavirus, making it even more clear that this virus impacts us all and these actions are imperative to protecting our friends and neighbors,” Gov. Bullock stated.
In Richland County, public health officials and elected representatives have been diligent about keeping people informed and emphasizing the importance of social distancing — maintaining a safe distance among people in public.
“We don’t have cases right now,” Ler said of Richland County. “We’re trying to encourage social distancing — because people are not sick yet. And we want to keep it that way.
“We don’t have it yet and we don’t want it here,” Ler said on March 24.