One day after Missoula County reported two confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, the Missoula City-County Health Department held a press conference to provide updates about the health department’s response to the virus.

Health Department Director Ellen Leahy spoke to the press about the funding available to the current response to the coronavirus. Leahy says that, although the health department has been “pretty frugal” about spending, the department’s core funding has a limited range of use.

“We do have one core piece of funding which is well-funded for preparation but is not funded for response. We don’t have any level of money for the response we’ve rolled out so far. In Missoula, we do have very good city and county support to our health department with local tax dollars. [Tax dollars] make up a little less than half our funds and that has not been reduced.”

Leahy told press that the health department has a reserve of saved funds that are currently being spent on the department’s response plan, which includes gathering incident response staff to support medical workers and infectious disease experts.

The health department is also working with local groups to address issues as they arise. For example, the health department is in contact with Missoula’s homeless shelters to provide guidance in case the virus spreads among the homeless population. As of March 15, the county did not have options for childcare. However, Governor Bullock’s decision to close all Montana public schools until March 27 may affect county planning for childcare.

Leahy says that she is grateful for the rapid response in identifying and developing testing for the virus. Now, she says, it is crucial to determine who to test in order to understand local spread.

Health Promotion Division Director Cindy Farr also spoke about the public's reaction to the current outbreak.

“We do want people to take this seriously, especially if it is someone who is at risk," Farr said. "We do understand that there are a lot of conspiracy theories out there and we’re not supporting those theories in any way. We don’t want people to be hysterical, but we do want people to take precautions to protect themselves and to protect others who are in vulnerable categories.”

Farr says that actionable items include social distancing and self-isolation to stem the spread of germs in the community. She also reminds the public not to flood 9-1-1 with calls. If you believe you may have symptoms, your first step should be to contact your health care provider or to use one of the tools on the Providence St. Patrick's Hospital or Community Medical Center websites.

Both Farr and Leahy say that it is essential now to “flatten the curve” of transmission—that is, avoiding a large spike in cases and slowing the spread of the virus by practicing hygiene and staying home. Farr says that, by doing so, we can avoid a crisis within both the health care system and the economy.

If you would like information on the local spread of the novel coronavirus, call 258-INFO or visit the Missoula City-County Health Department website here.