A Bozeman Health employee has been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus after being on the job and officials said Friday they’re investigating how many people could have been exposed to the illness.
“This is not the first health care worker in our community who has tested positive and it is unlikely to be the last,” said Matt Kelley, the health officer for Gallatin City-County Health Department.
Kelley announced the case, diagnosed Thursday night, during a joint press call with Bozeman Health officials Friday afternoon. Neither the hospital nor the county released how many health care workers in the area have contracted the new virus or what jobs the workers have.
Kelley said the county announced this latest case because there was a risk of exposure to patients and other workers. He said it’s still early in the investigation, but the benefit of a health-care setting is there’s often a record of who was in one room at one time.
“Health care workers are on the front lines of this pandemic, serving people who are sick and coming to them seeking services,” Kelley said.
“We cannot be shocked when one of these health care workers becomes sick and we cannot yield in our efforts to support them and do all we can to limit the spread of this disease.”
As of Friday at 5 p.m., there were 121 known cases of the virus in Montana — 42 of which were reported in Gallatin County.
Vickie Groeneweg, Bozeman Health chief nursing officer, said the hospital is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to determine who is at risk of exposure.
“After our investigation is complete, we will be contacting those patients with high-risk exposure,” Groeneweg said. “If you don’t hear from us, you’re considered low-risk.”
Officials said as soon as the health care worker diagnosed Thursday recognized a symptom, they went home and self-isolated.
Groeneweg said a COVID-19 diagnosis isn’t a surprise to the health system, repeating it’s expected that hospital workers are susceptible to contracting the virus.
She said the hospital put in place a series of steps to try and stop any spread of the illness within its walls.
There’s screening at every door at Bozeman Health where each person entering is evaluated for any symptoms of the illness. Twice a day, all Bozeman Health staff are required to check their temperature and for any potential symptoms.
The health system also canceled non-urgent procedures and put visitor restrictions in place to limit how many people are coming in.
There’s still not a vaccine or specific treatment for the illness.
The CDC outlines three priority groups to get tested for the illness, listing the order from a top priority to “as resources allow.”
That top tier includes testing hospitalized patients and health care workers with symptoms to protect other workers and patients.
Next in line are those at highest risk of a complication if infected, such as those in long-term care facilities or people with underlying conditions. The last category includes testing more people in an area with rapidly increasing hospital cases to stop community spread.
Gallatin County officials have said they’re not releasing information on specific COVID-19 cases unless it can help people take steps to protect themselves. Kelley said at this point, there’s not a pattern to the area’s cases, adding they aren’t clustered within one town or one type of profession.
He repeated the best thing people can do is to stay home as much as possible — such as going to the grocery store once a week instead of daily — remain at least 6 feet apart from those they don’t live with and wash their hands regularly.
“All over our county and state, health care providers and emergency responders are sacrificing to serve us all,” Kelley said. “… Please make the sacrifice for them so we can slow the spread of this virus and buy time for those working so hard around the clock.”
Those with questions about the novel coronavirus can call Gallatin City-County Health at 406-548-0123 or visit https://www.healthygallatin.org/coronavirus-covid-19/.
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