Credit: Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAMS / CDC

HELENA — The office of Gov. Steve Bullock said Friday evening March 13 that the first cases in the global COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic have been reported in Montana.

Four patients in different parts of the state have been classified as “presumptively positive” for the coronavirus strain based on testing by the Montana Department of Health and Human Services Public Health Laboratory, the governor’s office said in a release. The results will be confirmed with additional testing by the U.S. Centers of Disease Control.

The patients are as follow, according to the governor’s office:

  • A Gallatin County (Bozeman area) man in their 40s
  • A Yellowstone County (Billings area) woman in their 50s
  • A Silver Bow County (Butte area) man in their 50s
  • A Lewis and Clark County (Helena area) man in their 50s

Health officials say they’re working to learn details of the patients’ exposure and travel history, as well as to identify anyone they may have been in close contact with.

The state has tested a total of 107 people for COVID-19, as of Friday, with numbers updated daily on the DPHHS website, the governor’s office said. The state currently has capacity to test approximately 1,000 people, and says it anticipates receiving more testing kits from the Centers for Disease Control as needed.

A coronavirus information line has been launched at 1-888-333-0461, and an email information service is available at covid19info@mt.gov, with health officials available to respond to inquiries between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday to Friday. More information is also available at covid19.mt.gov.

Bullock declared a state of emergency in Montana over the anticipated outbreak Thursday.

The CDC says the disease has infected at least 1,629 people and killed 41 in the U.S. The World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic March 11, and as of March 13 reported 136,895 cases and 5,077 deaths from the virus globally.

Health experts, concerned about the disease spreading so fast it outpaces the health-care system’s ability to provide effective treatment, have urged “social distancing” and other measures designed to slow the outbreak.


The full text of the governor’s release is as follows:

Governor Bullock Confirms Four Presumptively Positive Coronavirus Cases in Montana

Friday, March 13, 2020

MONTANA – Governor Steve Bullock today confirmed four presumptively positive cases of coronavirus, or COVID-19, in Montana.

There are four positive cases in the counties of Gallatin, Yellowstone, Silver Bow, and Lewis and Clark.

The Gallatin patient is a male in their 40s.

The Yellowstone patient is a female in their 50s.

The Silver Bow patient is a male in their 50s.

The Lewis and Clark patient is a male in their 50s.

“We’ve been monitoring this rapidly evolving situation and vigorously preparing for COVID-19 to reach Montana, making today’s news unsurprising,” Governor Bullock said. “As our public health officials work relentlessly to prevent further spread, I urge all Montanans to continue efforts to plan and follow public health recommendations to take the proper precautions.”

The tests, conducted by the DPHHS Public Health Laboratory, were confirmed Friday evening. As is current standard, test results are considered presumptively positive and will be confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

DPHHS and all involved local county health departments are immediately following up to learn more details about the four individual’s exposure risk, travel history, and to identify and communicate with anyone who may have been in close contact with the patients.

This is the extent of the information on the four patients at this time. As more details are available, the governor’s office will provide timely updates.

All patients will be isolated pursuant to public health guidelines. Those who came into close contact with the individuals will be monitored for 14 days for fever and respiratory symptoms per CDC guidance.

As of Friday, DPHHS has tested a total of 107 individuals for COVID-19. These numbers are updated daily here: https://dphhs.mt.gov/publichealth/cdepi/diseases/coronavirusmt

The state currently has the capacity to test approximately 1,000 individuals and anticipates receiving more tests from the CDC as needed.

On Thursday, Governor Bullock declared a state of emergency in Montana to direct a coordinated response to COVID-19 and mobilize all available state resources including emergency funds or personnel from the National Guard. It also allows the governor to take additional steps as warranted.

To bolster the state’s response to the coronavirus situation, Governor Bullock launched a Coronavirus Task Force on March 3 to coordinate efforts across state government. The Task Force, led by Adjutant General Matthew Quinn, is now providing ways state residents can ask questions related to the coronavirus situation in Montana.

A coronavirus (COVID-19) information phone line at 1-888-333-0461 has been launched and Montanans can also email questions to covid19info@mt.gov. State public health officials will be responding to inquiries from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday. Montanans can also visit covid19.mt.gov to receive regularly updated information on COVID-19.

According to CDC, the elderly and people who have severe chronic medical conditions seem to be at higher risk for more serious COVID-19 illness. Early data suggest older people are twice as likely to have serious illness. Reported illnesses in the US have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death for confirmed coronavirus disease. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure, including fever, cough, and shortness of breath.

The CDC and state public health officials recommend all Montanans take the following precautions:

Those include:

  • Covering your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or into your sleeve, and then throwing the tissue in the trash.
  • Washing your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom or before eating. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your face – especially your eyes, nose and mouth ‑ with unwashed hands.
  • Stay home if you have cold or flu-like symptoms and avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Call ahead before visiting your doctor: If you have a medical appointment, call the healthcare provider and tell them that you have COVID-19 symptoms. This will help the healthcare provider’s office take steps to keep other people from getting infected or exposed.
  • Stay home except to get medical care: People who are mildly ill with COVID-19 are able to isolate at home during their illness. You should restrict activities outside your home, except for getting medical care.
  • It’s not too late to get the flu vaccine. Stay current on your vaccination, including the flu vaccine.
  • Watch for travel advisories. Consult the CDC’s travel website for any travel advisories and steps to protect yourself if you plan to travel outside the US.

Eric Dietrich

Eric Dietrich a journalist and data designer and the founder of the Long Streets economic reporting project. He has worked for the Great Falls Tribune, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, and Solutions Journalism Network. Contact Eric at edietrich@montanafreepress.org and follow him on Twitter.