According to the latest information about the COVID-19 virus (known also as the coronavirus or the Wuhan virus), Montana seems to be the safest place in the United States and may very well be the last state left standing (in the lower 48) when it comes to the virus’ communicability. Here’s everything you need to know about the coronavirus in the Big Sky State.
Montana is the only state in the United States completely surrounded by states with no reported cases of the illness. This interactive map shows the latest outbreaks worldwide. It shows that Montana is surrounded by Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming – all states without a single incident of the virus.
Here’s another map, provided by Johns Hopkins Medical Center.
Currently, 805 people in the United States have been diagnosed with contracting COVID-19. The New York Times reports that the United States has seen 27 deaths. These deaths are affecting mostly the weak and elderly.
It is likely that Montana’s geographical isolation, barren population, and long interstates and highways are deterring the virus’ ascent into the state. Simply put, it takes longer to get here than almost everywhere else. Additionally, the lack of plentiful airports keeps people from easily approaching the state by the air, with only a few airports accepting out-of-state or long-distance airline travel.
Furthermore, COVID-19 data demonstrates that coronavirus spreads most quickly in urban population centers (outbreaks are worse in heavily populated areas like New York, Washington State, Florida, and California). With a population density of only 7 people per square mile (with only Wyoming and Alaska having figures), any virus spreads slower here.
There are no known cases of coronavirus in Montana, although the first test was administered a month ago and tests have continued through recent weeks. More than 15 tests have been given in total. Two people are currently be observed after being suspected of at least being near contamination. Three legislators and one candidate recently attended CPAC, where at least one coronavirus patient attended, and are under self-quarantine.
Montana airports are preparing for the virus and attempt to preemptively stop its spread. The Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport has put up hand-sanitizing stations to help travelers prevent the virus’ spread. Reportedly, other airports are following suit.
Montana’s Governor Bullock has implemented a new Coronavirus Taskforce, which will oversee the response to the virus in Montana should the illness arrive. The state has been sent 200 tests from the Center for Disease Control and the task force will work with the Montana Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that tests done at local health offices will be sent right away to a Helena laboratory for further review and diagnosis.
Meanwhile, Montana’s four major health insurers have waived all fees related to coronavirus testing to ensure there are no excuses for their customers not seeking the tests, should they come down with COVID-19. However, the public is being warned not to ask for a test unless they have flu-like symptoms. Two-hundred tests don’t go a long way, and there’s some concern it’s not enough.
The state’s universities are preparing for COVID-19 as well. Montana State University is conducting a review of its policies and procedures. They have also expressed concern for students enrolled in MSU who are studying abroad, some in places ravaged by the illness. Montana State has canceled at least one international trip on account of the coronavirus scare.
Montana public school systems are also reviewing their options. Montana High School Association Executive Director Mark Beckman issued a statement encouraging school districts to consistently review the latest from the Centers for Disease Control on the virus. Schools have been instructed to work with local health departments on the issue. Schools have been urged to prepare by government officials.
Speaking of local health departments, they are preparing also. For example, the Flathead Valley Health Department is actively seeking options for local care. Reportedly, “Kalispell Regional Healthcare Chief Medical Officer Dr. Doug Nelson says the hospital has been meeting daily with the Flathead City-County Health Department and local health professionals as they prepare for” the imminent virus’ introduction into the area. Other health departments are preparing as well.
Larger county governments like Yellowstone County (Billings) are actively seeking solutions to the virus, should it spread within the county. It is presumed most counties are, although smaller counties are not regularly approached by the press to ask.
Various events have been canceled around the state, including a large event in Great Falls.
In the meantime, some Montanans are panicking because of the virus, with stores in both Missoula and Billings rationing toilet paper and other hygiene products like hand-sanitizer. In Billings, Wal-Mart was emptied of these products yesterday (see below).
The odds of coronavirus coming to Montana is near 100%. The question isn’t if it’s coming, but when. Montana might very well be the last state standing. However, Montanans are urged not to panic, which will no doubt cause shortages like the one pictured above.
The traditional flu has a mortality rate of roughly one percent. Coronavirus has a mortality rate of nearly three-and-a-half percent. Regardless, it is not a disease that is best characterized as “deadly.” It is treatable. Should someone believe they have contracted the coronavirus, they should not immediately go to the emergency room, where the virus can spread. Rather, they are to call their doctor who can provide instructions for how to treat themselves at home. Except for the elderly, most will survive (although heart-disease has recently been reported to increase morbidity as well).
It is unknown if warmer weather will help disperse the virus as with the traditional flu. However, if it does not, the nation of Israel is reportedly close to a manufacturing a vaccine, but it is still six months away from being given to the public.