COVID-19: Your Frequently Asked Questions
Lewis and Clark Public Health has created this page to provide up-to-date answers to the most common COVID-19 questions we receive. To suggest a question to be answered, please email healthinfo(at)lccountymt.gov.
Please note: As this is an ongoing pandemic, items on this FAQ are subject to change and may not be updated with newer information immediately. These answers are not meant to diagnosis or treat COVID-19. If you are experiencing symptoms, see your provider. If you are experiencing any life-threatening symptoms of COVID-19, including trouble breathing, persistent pressure or pain in the chest, new confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, or bluish lips or face coloring, seek emergency care immediately.
Q: Would a school classroom be allowed to unmask the students if the teacher is vaccinated all children are at low risk of becoming severely sick if infected? (Question submitted by community member)
Answer: It will be up to the school districts and boards of trustees to determine their mask policy amendments. In general, children are considered low-risk; however, there may be children attending school who do have underlying health conditions. Further, there are parents who are currently relying on the face covering as essentially the only protective measure in place to prevent the spread of the virus in this public setting. They should be considered at this point as well.
Q: Test positivity rates could be driven down by our community if we all go get tested daily. It doesn't seem feasible or wise that the county is using test positivity as a decision making metric if sentinel testing is no longer regularly happening. Is the county considering this? (Question submitted by community member)
Answer: Test positivity has never been a sole data point in decision making. It has always been one data point among several that is considered when making decisions. https://www.lccountymt.gov/health/covid-19/decision-making-dashboard.html
Q: With many people choosing not to get the vaccine for personal reasons, why does the county continue to use the vaccination rate as a guide for removing the mask mandate? (Question submitted by community member)
Answer: Vaccination rate among several other decision making criteria is still important even though many people will choose not to get vaccinated. We know that community-wide protection from the vaccine will not occur until we’ve reach approximately 70% of the eligible population who have been vaccinated. Since it is highly unlikely that we will reach that 70%, we may have to consider focusing on the most vulnerable which at this point has a fairly strong vaccinate rate. By the end of May, everyone who wants the vaccine will have had an opportunity to get both doses and be 2 week post 2nd dose.
Q: What is COVID-19?
A: Covid-19 is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus. Most people infected with COVID-19 virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment.
Older people, and those with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, certain respiratory diseases and cancer are more likely to experience serious illness. (1)
Q: How does COVID-19 spread?
A: Based on a Nov. 5 update to their webpage, the CDC notes COVID-19 spreads most commonly in the following manners:
- The virus that causes COVID-19 most commonly spreads between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet, or 2 arm lengths).
- It spreads through respiratory droplets or small particles, such as those in aerosols, produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, sings, talks, or breathes.
- These particles can be inhaled into the nose, mouth, airways, and lungs and cause infection. This is thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
- Droplets can also land on surfaces and objects and be transferred by touch. A person may get COVID-19 by touching the surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or eyes. Spread from touching surfaces is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
- It is possible that COVID-19 may spread through the droplets and airborne particles that are formed when a person who has COVID-19 coughs, sneezes, sings, talks, or breathes. There is growing evidence that droplets and airborne particles can remain suspended in the air and be breathed in by others, and travel distances beyond 6 feet (for example, during choir practice, in restaurants, or in fitness classes). In general, indoor environments without good ventilation increase this risk. (2)
Q: Who is considered a ‘close contact’ to a person diagnosed with COVID-19?
A: In October 2020, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) updated their guidance regarding close contacts. Under the new definition, a close contact:
- Was someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period starting from 2 days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, 2 days prior to test specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated.
- A close contact would also include someone with repeated exposure within a 6-foot area – not necessarily one 15-minute span - but within 6 feet of a case off-and-on repeatedly during the infectious period. (3)
Who is most at risk of serious illness from COVID-19?
A: On November 2, 2020, the CDC updated the list of those people most at risk to experience severe COVID-19. These include individuals who are/who have:
- Chronic kidney disease
- Older adults (age 65+)
- COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
- Obesity (BMI of 30 or higher)
- Severe obesity (BMI of 40 or higher)
- Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant
- Serious heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
- Individuals who are pregnant
- Sickle cell disease
- Type 2 diabetes (4)
In addition, the CDC provides guidance for other people who should take extra precautions. These include those living in rural communities, people with disabilities, and certain racial and ethnic minority groups. (5)
Q: What does ‘community spread’ of COVID-19 indicate?
A: Community spread of COVID-19 means people have become infected with the virus in an area, including some who aren’t sure how they acquired the disease. Community spread is occurring in Lewis and Clark County. (6)(7)
Q: What should I do if I think I’m sick with COVID-19?
A: First and foremost, if you do not have severe symptoms of COVID-19 infection, you should stay home from work and isolate. Contact your medical provider. Describe your symptoms and whether you’ve had close contact with someone who was diagnosed with COVID-19. Follow your medical provider’s instructions regarding testing.
Q: How can I get tested for COVID-19?
A: PureView conducts tests with an appointment ONLY at their office at 1930 9th Avenue, Helena, MT. Testing takes place between 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. APPOINTMENTS ARE REQUIRED. To schedule an appointment, please call 406-500-2088.
St. Peter’s Health has opened a drive-through testing site for COVID-19. It’s open to people who have symptoms (fever, cough, trouble breathing) and a provider order for the test. The drive-up testing is located at 2550 Broadway, just east of the Broadway clinic. For more information, please visit this page.
Q: Should I self-quarantine or get tested if I’ve been in close contact with someone who was in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 (contact of contact)?
A: At this time, people who encountered a close contact to a case, as identified by Public Health, are NOT subject to quarantine.
However, based on what we know about COVID-19, you should stay home for 14 days and monitor yourself for symptoms. The CDC does not recommend testing or quarantine of people who were in contact to someone with no symptoms but who had potential exposure to the virus (contacts of contacts).
Q: I was tested for COVID-19. When and how will I get the test results?
A: Your medical provider should contact you with your results within 48 hours. However, there are outliers and you could wait up to 72 hours for results.
Q: Can I go ahead with an event I’m planning if no one who’s going to attend is sick?
A: There are several factors you should consider before holding an event:
- How many people will attend? Currently, we advise against gatherings of more than 10 people.
Are you inviting older people or people with severe medical conditions like heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes? These people are at greater risk of having serious illness if they contract COVID-19.
- Can you keep people at a distance of at least 6 feet away from one another? With COVID-19, 6 feet is considered the distance the virus can spread.
- How prevalent is COVID-19 in our community? Will attendees be traveling from areas with lots of cases of the disease?
- If you are planning an event with more than 25 participants, you must get approval from the health department. For more information on event plans, visit our Event Planning for Mass Gatherings in Phase 2 Reopening guidance.
- Due to the large number of cases in the community, event plans with more than 25 individuals will be denied by Lewis and Clark Public Health at this time. It is highly recommended event planners cancel ANY events in the county (no matter how many participants are expected) to help control the spread of the disease.
Q: Do I need to wear a face mask to protect myself against COVID-19?
A: The CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. Simple cloth face coverings can slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. (8)
Face masks are currently required for individuals over the age of five years old in Montana in many settings, (including, but not limited to grocery stores and pharmacies) following the executive orders from the governor and our health officer.(9)(10)
Cloth face coverings should not be placed on children under age two and anyone who has trouble breathing or is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without help.
Q: Should I go to work?
A: If you’re feeling sick, do not go to work until at least 24 hours after your medical provider indicates that you have recovered. Notify your supervisor. If you're not sick, talk to your employer to find out whether options such as working from home are possible.
There are several steps employers can take to help protect employees from COVID-19, including working from home.
If you are a business owner, and you have an infected employee, visit our Responding to a COVID-19 Positive Employee guidance page.
Q: Can I still donate blood?
A: The need for donated blood is constant, and the American Red Cross's Helena Blood Donation Center is open and in urgent need of donations. We encourage people who are well to continue to donate blood if they can. Just be sure to practice social distancing (keep at least 6 feet between yourself and others). Public health is supporting blood centers by providing recommendations that will keep donors and staff safe. Call (800) 733-2767 to set up an appointment.
Q: Where can I find the most up-to-date information?
A: Visit our Local COVID-19 Decision-Making Dashboard. The dashboard outlines the criteria and associated data LCPH considers when making decisions related to addressing impacts associated with the pandemic.
Q: What happens if I test positive for COVID-19?
A: If you test positive for COVID-19, you must take care to isolate yourself to prevent others from becoming ill. (11)
- Stay home. Most people with COVID-19 have mild illness and can recover at home in isolation. Don’t leave home for any reason – except to seek medical care.
- Take care of yourself. Stay hydrated and rest. Take over-the-counter medicines, such as acetaminophen.
- Stay in touch with your doctor. Call before getting medical care. Be sure to get care if you have any emergency warnings signs, or if you think you are experiencing an emergency.
- Avoid public transporting, Uber or Lyft, or taxis.
- Isolate from others. Stay home, and, if possible, stay in a specific room of your apartment or house. If possible, use a separate bathroom. If you must be around others, wear a mask to prevent spreading COVID-19.
- Tell your close contacts they may have been exposed to COVID-19.
- Monitor your symptoms, which can include: fever, cough, loss of taste or smell, and others.
- Wear your mask over your nose and mouth.
- Cover your cough and sneezes.
- Clean your hands often.
- Clean all ‘high-touch’ surfaces daily.
- Avoid sharing household items.
Q: Where can I find the most up-to-date local numbers with regard to the pandemic?
A: Visit this page to view the latest numbers in the community. This site is updated daily at 10 a.m.
Q: Why do the ‘active cases’ in the county never seem to decrease?
A: While we are reporting numbers and clearing active cases, there is a data delay at the state level.
What's the best way to kill the virus that causes COVID-19 on surfaces in my home?
The best cleaners are diluted bleach, rubbing alcohol solutions with at least 60 percent alcohol, and EPA-registered household disinfectants like Lysol and Clorox products. These products are in short supply at stores but are still being restocked. If you're using a bleach solution, use 1/3 cup of bleach per gallon of water. If you're making a smaller batch, go with 4 teaspoons of bleach to a quart of water.
The CDC recommends wearing gloves when you disinfect and setting those gloves aside to be used only for COVID-19 cleaning. The high-traffic surfaces should be the first things you disinfect: doorknobs, light switches, remotes, handles, desks, toilets, and sinks. For more details on cleaning and disinfecting, visit the CDC website.
Q: Are there special precautions I need to take when I open my mail?
A: So far, research indicates that there’s very little likelihood of catching COVID-19 from touching mail. However, LCPH strongly recommends that you wash your hands well with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after going through your mail. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth while opening mail and until you've washed your hands.
Q: Can I get coronavirus from my pets, or give it to them?
A: At this time, there's no evidence that companion animals, including pets, can spread COVID-19 to people. More studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by the novel coronavirus. CDC recommends that people who are sick with COVID-19 isolate themselves from other people AND animals, including pets, during their illness until we know more about how this virus affects animals.
Q: I'm so stressed out about COVID-19. What can I do to unwind?
Things you can do to support yourself and the people you care for include:
- Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
- Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
- Make time to unwind. Try to do some activities you enjoy.
- Connect with others through calls (audio or video), instant messaging, email, letters, or other forms of communication, even if you can't be together in person.
- Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you feel.