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.
For the most up-to-date vaccine progress and county case counts, visit our COVID-19 Hub.
The New York Times provides COVID-19 data for all states on their COVID in the US page (no account needed).
Q: Why will boosters be offered?
A: It’s clear that current mRNA vaccines are effective in reducing risk of severe disease, hospitalization and death, even against the Delta variant. However, like many vaccines, this protection can reduce over time. Data suggests this reduction of protection is happening with some current COVID-19 vaccines.
Q: When will boosters begin?
A: Boosters must be approved both by the FDA and CDC before they can be administered to the public. The local vaccination team is currently in the planning stages for clinics.
Q: Will you be offering drive-thru clinics again to help distribute boosters?
A: Yes. Drive-thru clinics remain the best way for the Local Vaccination Team to provide efficient and safe distribution of vaccine to our community.
Q: Will reservations be required at mass drive-thru clinics organized by the Local Vaccination Team?
A: Yes, we will require online reservations for any mass clinics. Reservations will be made available online and through our call center. Reservations ARE NOT available at this time. As you can see, there are a lot of unanswered questions at this point. Please watch our social media, local press, and our website for this information when it becomes available.
Q: Who qualifies for the 'third dose' of Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at this point? (AS OF Sept. 1, 2021)
A: The CDC recently recommended third doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for moderately to severely immunocompromised individuals. Many of our upcoming clinics will have third doses available for people who are at least 28 days from their second Moderna or Pfizer dose AND have one of the following conditions, or been told by their primary care physician they are eligible for a third dose.
• Been receiving active cancer treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood
• Received an organ transplant and are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
• Received a stem cell transplant within the last 2 years or are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
• Moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency (such as DiGeorge syndrome, Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome)
• Advanced or untreated HIV infection
• Active treatment with high-dose corticosteroids or other drugs that may suppress your immune response
People should talk to their healthcare provider about their medical condition, and whether getting an additional dose is appropriate for them. Note: immunocompromised individuals are only able to get a third dose of either Pfizer or Moderna vaccine at this time. There is currently insufficient data to support a third dose for Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Q: Why did the CDC change its masking guidance?
A: To help slow the spread of the Delta variant. Researchers say the Delta variant is 50 percent more contagious than the Alpha variant (which was first identified in the U.K.). In addition, a person with the Delta variant can spread it to more people than the original coronavirus strain (from 2.5 people with the original strain to 3.5 or 4, with Delta.) There is also data that indicates the Delta variant causes more severe illness.
Q: What is the new CDC masking/face covering guidance?
A: Following the recent national surge of COVID-19 cases linked to the Delta variant, the CDC now recommends people living in areas of substantial or high transmission wear masks indoors when in public - regardless of their vaccination status. In addition, the CDC notes that wearing masks is very important for those individuals with a weakened immune system, or if, “because of your age or an underlying medical condition, you are at increased risk for severe disease, or if someone in your household has a weakened immune system, is at increased risk for severe disease, or is unvaccinated” regardless of the level of community transmission in the area.
Q: How can I check if I live in an area of substantial or high transmission?
A: Please go to the CDC's COVID Data Tracker to check the level of community transmission in the United States, including Lewis and Clark County.
Q: Is Lewis and Clark County an area of substantial or high transmission at this time?
A: Lewis and Clark County is currently listed as an area of substantial community transmission, according to CDC data at this time.
Q: So what is Lewis and Clark Public Health’s guidance with regard to masking?
A: Based on CDC guidance, LCPH recommends that all residents wear masks/face coverings when in public indoor spaces – regardless of their vaccination status.
Q: Should I wear a mask even if I’m fully vaccinated?
A: While the current vaccines are very effective, the possibility for breakthrough cases does exist (see next question). Other than being vaccinated, masks remain one of the easiest ways to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Social distancing, avoiding crowds, and washing your hands are also important tools in the fight.
Q: What about COVID-19 breakthrough cases?
A: Absolutely no vaccine is 100 percent effective. Protection differs from person to person depending on a number of factors such as age and underlying health conditions. Even so, breakthrough cases rarely cause significant illness, hospitalization, or death. Because many breakthrough cases are asymptomatic, the new guidance from the CDC on masking is an effort to curb the spread of the virus to those who are unvaccinated.
Breakthrough cases are rare in Lewis and Clark County, with 31 known cases out of more than 33,000 fully vaccinated individuals.
Q: What’s the easiest way to protect myself or a loved one from the Delta variant?
A: Getting vaccinated is the safest and easiest way to ensure protection from COVID-19 and the Delta variant. As always, COVID-19 vaccines are free. For testing and vaccination locations in Lewis and Clark County please visit our interactive mapping tool at https://viewer.mapme.com/lcvaxclinics. For those not yet eligible to get vaccinated, wear a mask in indoor public places, keep your distance, avoid crowds, don’t go to school or work sick, and get tested if you have COVID19 symptoms.
Sources for above questions: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Yale Medicine, Public Health Communications Collaborative, Lewis and Clark Public Health
Q: What is the Delta variant, and why is it concerning?
Answer: The delta variant is a naturally occurring mutation of the SARS CoV-2 virus, the virus that causes COVID-19. Data show that the delta variant is more contagious and spreads more easily than the original COVID-19 virus. The delta variant accounts for a growing proportion of new coronavirus cases across the U.S., and people infected with the delta variant are more likely to need hospitalization than those infected with earlier strains of the virus.
Q: How much more does the Delta variant spread?
Answer: Researchers say the Delta variant is 50 percent more contagious than the Alpha variant (which was first identified in the U.K.). In addition, a person with the Delta variant can spread it to more people than the original coronavirus strain (from 2.5 people with the original strain to 3.5 or 4, with Delta.)
Q:Are the COVID-19 vaccines effective against the Delta variant?
Answer: Yes. Data show that the COVID-19 vaccines are extremely effective in protecting fully vaccinated people from catching and spreading the virus, including the delta variant. But it is critical that you are fully vaccinated to be protected.
Q: What are ‘hyperlocal outbreaks’?
Answer: In some areas, poorly-vaccinated communities are surrounded by other locations with high rates of vaccination. According to Yale Medicine “…A low-vaccination town that is surrounded by high vaccination areas could end up with the virus within its borders, resulting in hyperlocal outbreaks.
Q:Why have some local governments reinstated mask policies?
Answer: Local and state officials establish policies based on local scenarios, including vaccination and transmission rates. Where there are lower vaccination rates and higher infection rates, or where disparities persist across population groups, officials may reinstate masking policies — such as indoor masking — with the goal of protecting their communities and people who are not or cannot be vaccinated. Lewis and Clark County currently has no mask requirements in place.
Q: Will vaccinated individuals need boosters?
Answer: Currently, the CDC and other agencies are not recommending boosters for those already immunized from COVID-19.
Delta variant-related questions sources:Yale Medicine, Public Health Communications Collaborative
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?
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?
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 if you are unvaccinated. However, those who are vaccinated do not have to mask (but can continue to do so).
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 on our current COVID-19 status in the county?
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.
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.