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The Gallatin City-County Health Department reported last week that five people in the area have been monitored for signs of the novel coronavirus after returning from mainland China, but have all been cleared of any concerns.

Only one of the five was tested for the virus, which came back negative. There are no known confirmed cases of novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, in Gallatin County or Montana.

In light of increased news coverage and public discussion, the health department wants to address growing anxiety as the virus spreads. There are now 83,652 confirmed cases of the virus, 78,961 of which are in China, according to the World Health Organization. Around 2,850 people have died. The United States had more than 60 confirmed cases and recorded its first death from the virus Saturday.

A news release from the health department noted that evidence shows that about 5% of confirmed cases lead to serious illness and fewer than that are fatal.

At a Thursday Board of Health meeting, Matt Kelley, health officer with the department, said panicking about the virus is counterproductive.

“That’s probably the thing that’s going to get us in the most trouble,” Kelley said.

Kelley said false information spread on social media, through the rumor mill and mixed messages from leaders in Washington, D.C., have added to anxiety. The health department sent out a news release Thursday saying the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services provide the most reliable information.

“It is important, it is serious, but it’s not worth panicking about,” Kelley said.

The health department news release said staff are coordinating with area schools, Montana State University, first responders, health care providers and elected officials to prepare to respond in the event that COVID-19 arrives in Montana, like outlining policies for quarantine and isolation. The goal is “to ensure surveillance, prepare for containment and develop communication plans,” according to the news release.

The department is advising that people wash their hands frequently, cover coughs or sneezes, and stay home and consult a health care provider when feeling sick. It also advises eating well, getting enough sleep and exercise to stay healthy.

“We’re not really saying that because we think there’s coronavirus in our community right now, we’re saying that because it’s flu season,” Kelley said at the meeting.

Kelley did say at the Board of Health meeting that it’s a good idea for people to think about how they would act if coronavirus arrives in Bozeman. For example, a business might think about how it could manage employees working from home to avoid transmission of the virus.

I-Ho Pomeroy, a Bozeman city commissioner and member of the Board of Health, said the response to the person who was tested for COVID-19 in Bozeman a few weeks ago demonstrated how officials will deal with the illness. She said that misinformation about the virus is harmful, and that there needs to be more education for the public on what COVID-19 is.

“Through my daily job, I meet a lot of people who have fear,” Pomeroy said in an interview.

Pomeroy owns I-Ho’s Korean Grill and said at the Board of Health meeting she’s heard reports from bigger cities of Asian-owned businesses being negatively impacted by the news of the virus. She said her business has not been impacted, but that the reports are still concerning.

The health department news release said it’s important to fight against making assumptions about people based on ethnicity, nationality or appearance. Kelley said in the release there’s no reason to stop frequenting Chinese-owned businesses.

Kelley said public health officials are still learning about the virus themselves and don’t have all of the answers. But in any case, health officials are preparing for the virus to spread.

“We cannot insulate ourselves from risk in this world,” Kelley said at Thursday’s meeting.

State Auditor Matt Rosendale is asking people to be wary of scams trying to capitalize on the stock market’s downturn, which has been attributed to the virus’ spread. In a Friday news release, the auditor’s office outlined red flags like offerings with no risk and high return, a sense of urgency, or investments that aren’t properly licensed.

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Shaylee Ragar can be reached at sragar@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2607.

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