You won’t see many people in Missoula wearing masks to protect against coronavirus, but the Missoula City County Health Department is ready with information for those who are concerned.

Infections Disease Specialist Pamela Whitney told KGVO News on Wednesday that the health department is prepared after the Centers for Disease Control announced on Tuesday that the U.S. should begin preparing for the coronavirus.

“We are prepared,” said Whitney. “We are having meetings among the health department with the hospitals and clinics. We sent out a packet to all the clinics and hospitals on how to screen people and the questions to ask them about travel, so if you go into a clinic right now, the first thing they’ll ask you is if you’ve traveled. Then they’ll ask you where you’ve traveled, when, and if are you having symptoms.”

Whitney said the health department is in constant communication with state and federal health officials.

“We have a teleconference with the state and the state is communication with the CDC, in fact, they had one just yesterday and we have three people in this office now ready to answer questions,” she said. “This should be looked at like the flu, that’s how you’re going to avoid this, with excellent hand hygiene. It is an ‘enveloped’ virus so alcohol hand sanitizers will work fine.”

Whitney recommended that our readers and listeners contact the Montana DPHHS website to keep track of the coronavirus.

“There are zero cases in Montana and we in Missoula are not following anyone as of today,” she said. “For those concerned about a lack of masks, we notice that when someone is wearing a mask they’re fiddling with the mask with their hands up near their face and that’s how they’re going to be exposed. If you’re outside in the fresh air, unless you’re going to be within six feet of somebody you have nothing to worry about; in other words, you don’t need to walk around outside with a mask on. It’s not going to do you any good.”

Whitney said if people take the same precautions they would for the flu, they should be able to avoid being affected by the coronavirus.

Anyone with questions or concerns can contact the health department directly by calling 406-258-3896.

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