Malmstrom AFB declares "public health emergency" due to COVID-19

Posted at 3:38 PM, Mar 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-13 21:00:40-04

Malmstrom Air Force Base has formally declared what it calls a "public health emergency."

Colonel Jennifer Reeves, the commander of the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom, said In a news release on Friday afternoon: "I have been notified by my Public Health Emergency Officer (PHEO) of a public health situation on our installation involving COVID-19 that requires immediate action. Based on the PHEO’s recommendation and the results of a preliminary investigation, I am declaring a public health emergency.”

We talked with a Malmstrom official, who said that the declaration does not mean that anyone on base has tested positive for COVID-19; the official stressed that it is a precautionary measure, similar to Governor Steve Bullock declaring a state of emergency for Montana on Thursday, and President Donald Trump formally declaring a national emergency on Friday.

Col. Reeves said that a person on base was recently in close contact with a person who is confirmed to have COVID-19; she said that the Malmstrom person has been tested, and they are waiting for results from a state lab in Helena. She stressed that at this point, the Malmstrom person has NOT been confirmed to have COVID-19.

Reeves says the declaration will provide Malmstrom with "the tools necessary to protect our Airmen and their families and limit the spread of this virus," and added, “The risk to the base population remains low, but it still exists and that’s why preventive measures such as washing hands frequently and practicing good hygiene are critical to the success of our efforts at protection."

Declaring a public health emergency enables base leaders to take actions that promote force protection, such as closing base facilities, limiting non-mission essential activities, restricting movement, or implementing quarantine or isolation for select individuals. The declaration is in effect for 30 days unless otherwise terminated or extended.

“Force health protection is our top priority, and we will continue to ensure that Air Force personnel have the most up-to-date information on appropriate measures to prevent potential spread of the virus. We are doing everything we can to help minimize the spread of COVID-19. Our Airmen and their families, live, work and attend school in this community and we are committed to doing our part to limit the spread of this virus,” said Reeves.

(MID-DAY FRIDAY) As of the morning of March 13, there are NO confirmed cases of COVID-19 actually in Great Falls or anywhere in Montana, according to the Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services. Here is the latest information for Montana from DPHHS as of Friday morning:

  • Reported COVID-19 Cases in Montana: 1* (see below)
  • Individuals monitored by public health: 30
  • Individuals who have completed monitoring process: 26
  • Individuals who remain under monitoring: 4
  • Persons tested for CoVID-19: 55
  • Persons with negative results: 55
  • Persons with positive results: 0

KRTV has received numerous messages from people who have heard rumors that there are confirmed COVID-19 cases at Malmstrom Air Force Base, and that Malmstrom has been "quarantined" or placed in lockdown status. We talked with officials at Malmstrom who stated that there are zero confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Malmstrom, and there have not been any quarantines or lockdowns. They also said: "Team Malmstrom leadership is continually monitoring the situation and working closely with the Montana Department of Health to coordinate prevention and response efforts in the local area. We are providing installation personnel and their families with up-to-date information on appropriate measures to prevent potential spread of the virus, as well as any impact to local activities. Our mission is a continuous one and we are prepared to continue to meet and exceed our mission objectives. Some changes we’ve executed are changes to gate procedures as well as single-point entry procedures at the clinic."

Malmstrom did implement a change on Thursday affecting all visitors to the base. Security Forces personnel at the entrance gates will no longer be touching ID cards of people coming on base. Malmstrom said in a Facebook post : "As you come up to the installation gates, you will need to show the Defender the front side of your card, then, when prompted, turn it around so the back side can be scanned and/or looked at. Once your card is scanned, follow the directions from the Defender. DO NOT proceed through the gate until you are directed to by the Defender so as not to cause confusion or initiate any other actions on the Defender’s part. Thanks for all your help."

We also received messages stating that Benefis Health System had two employees who tested positive; we talked with Benefis on Friday morning, and they said that there are no employees or patients who have tested positive at this point. Benefis is restricting visitors as a precautionary measure to their senior services facilities, including Grandview, Westview, Eastview, and Assisted Living.

We have received messages from people saying that some nursing homes in Great Falls have implemented restrictions on visitors because their residents are a higher-risk population due to their age and medical conditions. We are working to find out which facilities have implemented any such measures.

Great Falls Public Schools superintendent Tom Moore said on Thursday that all out-of-state travel and non-essential in-state travel is suspended indefinitely for GFPS staff and student groups. Moore said in an email to GFPS staff that all large gatherings or events sponsored by GFPS that are scheduled to happen after school and/or on weekends have been canceled or postpone until at least March 27. This includes but is not limited to concerts, drama productions, all athletic competitions, art shows, conferences and conventions, and proms and school dances.

Great Falls College-MSU and the University of Providence have both implemented policies to address the situation. Great Falls College-MSU announced on Thursday that it will be extending spring break one week for students so that faculty and administration can prepare to deliver classes remotely. Classes were originally set to resume on Monday, March 16.. The University of Providence said on Thursday afternoon that "...we have decided to deliver via online all campus courses/programs for the remainder of the semester. Students presently on Spring Break will be told not to return to campus this weekend."

The only confirmed Montana case is a Lake County woman who is currently in Maryland. Health officials in Maryland say the woman was last in Montana in November 2019, has not returned to the state since that time, and was not in Montana during the 14-day incubation period. Despite the fact that the woman is not in Montana currently and has not been in Montana since she was exposed and tested positive, current guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) mandate that her case is considered to be a "Montana" case. Click here for more information .

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), as of March 12, there are 1,215 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the nation. There have been 36 deaths, most of them in Washington. Click here for the latest information about COVID-19 at the CDC website .