COVID strikes Seeley Lake

Behind the masks

SEELEY LAKE - "I think the hardest part of this whole thing was I just felt horribly guilty," said Seeley Lake resident Emily Rindal who tested positive for coronavirus in early September. "I know it wasn't my fault and I didn't know I had it. But ruining people's plans for Labor Day and having the fear of what if they die, what if they are hospitalized, that guilt just killed me."

Rindal was not alone in her mental struggle with the virus that has changed how everyone interacts. Even though it affected everyone differently, she and several others in Seeley Lake who were diagnosed with COVID-19 were physically incapable of everyday tasks for several weeks. The requirement to quarantine affected not only them, but everyone that was identified as a close contact, regardless of whether they tested positive.

"I think there is a lot of fear associated with [COVID-19]. It is a real thing but we also need to show compassion and empathy for people who are struggling with it," said Seeley Lake resident Erika Wilson who tested positive Oct. 30. "There is nothing that I did to catch it. I'm just trying to keep other people from getting it."

"If it can happen to the pharmacy crew, it can happen to anybody," said Owner of Seeley Swan Pharmacy Karen Dove. "When you are beyond your immediate family, wear a mask. It is such a simple thing to do. I'm preventing you from getting what I have and you're keeping your stuff to yourself so I don't get it."

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Rindal coughed a few times following several hour RZR ride Sunday, Aug. 30 but she assumed it was from the dust. The next day she had a backache but figured it was just from working out.

"I disregarded both of those symptoms but that is when it started," said Rindal.

Tuesday she sneezed a few times, had a slight runny nose and a headache but wrote it off as allergies. Because she was planning to visit her grandmother over the weekend, Rindal decided to get a COVID test on Wednesday while working in Flathead County. By Thursday she had completely lost her taste and smell and suffered from body aches.

Her results came back positive Thursday, Sept. 3.

Rindal said her lungs were affected, she was exhausted, achy, had a temperature over 100 degrees, couldn't focus properly and couldn't remember how to do simple tasks. She was never in contact with anyone, she was aware of, that tested positive.

Dove and her daughter Marissa Fredrickson knew exactly where they were exposed to COVID. They attended a family baby shower in Laurel, Montana on a Saturday this fall. Of the 30 plus attendees, 19 tested positive for COVID the following week. Everyone who attended the shower felt healthy.

"There was no spacing, no masks, it was just a baby shower for very close family but there were other people there," said Dove.

One of Dove's family members was the first to notice symptoms. His sense of taste went right away.

"The last night we had wine and he said, 'This tastes like pollywog water,'" Dove said. "My nephew and I both looked at him and said, 'this does NOT taste like pollywog water.'" Dove laughed, "That was the first clue for him."

Dove started showing symptoms Tuesday.

"I felt like I had the worst flu I had ever had. My skin hurt, my back ached, I had the chills and I was up all night coughing," said Dove whose temperature never broke 100 degrees but she said she experienced all the other symptoms. "Then everyone else started coming down with it."

When she went in for routine medical work on Thursday, Dove failed the COVID screening and tested positive. However, by Friday she felt remarkably better.

While Fredrickson was never tested, she exhibited the same symptoms as Dove. When she was lying down, she said she could hardly breathe making it very hard to sleep. It took her two weeks to feel back to normal.

The most recent case started the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 28. Wilson felt a little congested but by the afternoon she had the chills, was achy and her eyes were burning.

"For me it felt different," said Wilson. "Right then I called to schedule a test."

While she had been at a retreat and made several stops shopping in the Flathead the weekend of Oct. 24, she hadn't been notified that she was in contact with anyone that tested positive.

The Missoula City-County Health Department notified Wilson on Friday night that she was positive. She told the caller that she was a leader for Mission Bible Fellowship's Kids Club, an after school program on Mondays that fell within 48 hours of her developing symptoms. Even though those at the Harvest Carnival Oct. 26 were wearing masks, they fit the definition of a close contact being exposed to her within six feet for more than 15 cumulative minutes. She was told the contact tracer would be calling to get that information.

"To me it was a really big deal, potentially exposing 14 kids and three adult helpers that were all over 60," said Wilson who had intentionally not advertised for this year's Harvest Carnival. "We usually have more than 30 kids. I was thankful that there were only 14 kids there."

By Saturday she was very sick, but Wilson started texting those families whose children were at the Harvest Carnival.

"We appreciated Erika. Because of her proactive action we stepped into action," said Heatherann Wayne, grandmother of one of the children who attended the Kids Club.

Wayne works as a caregiver with elderly clients. Even though she was a secondary contact, she made the decision with her employer to not work with her clients for 14 days as a precaution. When her granddaughter developed cold-like symptoms, they had her tested right away since she had been exposed. Her results came back negative.

Seeley Lake Elementary Superintendent Josh Gibbs heard about the exposure from a parent and he reached out to Wilson Sunday afternoon. She provided the list of students that attended the event. While she had already contacted all the families, Gibbs also connected with the families by Sunday evening. He asked them to keep their child home until they heard from the Health Department.

Gibbs explained that he meets with the Health Department weekly. Since it takes the Health Department several days to do the contact tracing, area schools have started asking students to stay at home if they feel they fit the definition of a close contact in an effort to limit spread, keep the school open and students learning in person as long as possible.

"Talking to Erika and just knowing how the Health Department is responding in a lot of these cases, I had a very good feeling that they would all be considered close contacts," said Gibbs. "I asked them to stay at home. Erika was awesome because she was clear and onboard with the communications I wanted to put out."

Gibbs said all the families were on board and totally understood. Teachers and the board were informed Sunday night of the situation and were told the students would be remote learning.

"Teachers were awesome at adjusting their lesson plans and getting everything together," said Gibbs. "A lot of credit goes to them for that easy transition for those kids. Everyone involved just made my job easy."

The Missoula County contact tracer called Wilson Tuesday night, Nov. 3 to begin the contact tracing. The Waynes were notified Thursday, Nov. 5. They were told their granddaughter could not return to school until Nov. 10, 14 days after the exposure.

Gibbs said he was never contacted by the Health Department. Had no one reached out to him, he never would have known about the exposure.

"We have so many great community partners with organizations that it is bound to happen that a positive case outside of our school will affect our school," said Gibbs. "The willingness of the parents to contact the school and let us know helps us tremendously. Like we saw in this case there is a lot of potential for spread [if the school is not notified quickly]. I encourage anyone who is in that situation to reach out and then I can answer any questions that they might have."

"As a parent and a board member I'm really impressed with how much Josh educated himself on the requirements and how they fit into SLE," said Wayne's husband Gary. "He took on extra work to make sure the school was safe and other kids were safe."

Gary added that had Wilson or the school not reached out, the call 10 days after the exposure would have been the first indication that their family had been exposed.

"I'm sure it put a huge hardship on those parents for those kids to not be able to go to school for a week and a day," said Wilson. "That is why it was important for me to be transparent and tell them as soon as I knew because I had no idea how long it would take the Health Department."

Since there was no exposure during church gatherings, Mission Bible Fellowship was sanitized but never closed. Volunteers handed out candy Halloween night, they continued to hold worship and hosted the creation conference Saturday, Nov. 7. Wilson's husband Pastor Craig Wilson worked remotely while in quarantine.

Rindal also took it upon herself to contact those with whom she had been in close contact. Not only was she unsure how long it would take Flathead County to do the contact tracing, she also wanted people to know who exposed them.

Even though Rindal was quarantining in the Flathead, her office in Seeley Lake was closed to the public and the two people that work in her office with her were quarantined. Both tested negative and never experienced any symptoms.

One of the contacts Rindal was unable to reach was Ed Bauer, someone she met with Monday, Aug. 31 for more than an hour indoors.

On Thursday, Sept. 3 evening, Bauer said he got the chills out of the blue. When he woke up Friday morning, he was run down but didn't have any other symptoms. He tested his oxygen saturation and was in the low 90s. He decided to drive into Missoula for a drive-through test.

Saturday morning the Health Department called and said he was exposed to someone that tested positive. Even though he asked who it was and if they lived in Seeley Lake, the Health Department declined to give him any further information. Sunday he received another call that his COVID test was positive.

Monday morning Bauer had a follow-up call with Rindal. He asked her if she had COVID to which she said yes.

"The masks, I believe, do help but in that situation, somehow or another I got infected," Bauer said and added that they were both masked and followed all the protocols. "She was really apologetic but there was nothing she could do. We thought we were doing everything right."

Bauer went through the two-week quarantine with very few symptoms except fatigue.

"I'm pretty active for a 70-year-old and I would go out for an hour and half, two hours and I was just beat," said Bauer. "I was spending 18 hours plus sleeping. Every ounce of my energy was gone."

However on the 14th day, his oxygen level dropped into the 80s. He was taken via ambulance from Seeley Lake to St. Patrick's Hospital. In the hospital his temperature reached 101.7 degrees. Even though he didn't have any trouble breathing and wasn't coughing, he was diagnosed with pneumonia. He was admitted to the ICU, put on oxygen and received steroids and Remdesivir Monday night. He was the only COVID patient in the hospital at the time.

Tuesday afternoon Bauer felt like a new person and Wednesday morning the oxygen was removed. He remained in the hospital until Friday morning to get his blood sugar regulated from the medications.

"Everyone is different. I would say I had a mild case," said Bauer. "If you aren't feeling good or things aren't improving or getting worse, go to the hospital. The medicines they have to treat it for me, and I've heard for others, did a lot of good."

While Dove was not wearing a mask when she contracted COVID, she wears one at work along with her employees Fredrickson and Cheryl Bemrose. Bemrose developed symptoms the weekend after Dove became sick.

Bemrose was never tested but assumed she was positive and followed all the quarantine guidelines along with her immediate family who was also symptomatic. Her symptoms and lack of energy lasted for almost two weeks.

"I didn't mask over there and I'm so sorry," said Dove turning to Cheryl. "I didn't expect that I would have to."

Dove's husband also quarantined for the full 14 days. His employer required a test to return to work and he tested positive. While he only had a mild case, he was required to isolate for another 14 days.

"We've had it, we don't want it again. Please put your mask on for our sake if nothing else," Dove said adding it needs to be a surgical mask, double layers cloth. "I don't want to go through it again. It is too hard on our town. It is very difficult when we have to close down."

While everyone agreed it was rough, even Bauer who was hospitalized, felt they had a mild case. While Wilson is still dealing with a lingering cough and lack of smell, everyone else is pretty much back to themselves with little to no residual side effects.

"It affects people very differently," said Wilson. "Reading Emily's post on Facebook [from Nov. 2 about having COVID in early September], I wasn't happy that she had had it but it actually made me feel thankful. I felt it was really brave for her to share that and I could relate to her symptoms and I felt like the protocol was lining up with what I was doing."

Rindal shared the testing center recommendations. She was told to follow this for at least a week:

• Drink lots of water and tonic water with quinine throughout the day

• Eat lots of fruits and veggies

• Avoid processed food, alcohol, sugar, starch and nicotine

• Take 1000 Mg of Vitamin C every six hours, 5000-10,000 IU per day of Vitamin D3 and 50 Mg of Zinc three times a day

• Sit outdoors in the sunshine and fresh air when it is still possible to isolate

Rindal also recommended Salonpas for back pain.

After losing their smell and taste, everyone at the pharmacy said they did not want to eat. However they all recommended staying hydrated with water, orange juice, hot tea and eating chicken noodle soup. Dove added to treat the back pain, Ibuprofen worked well as well as Mucinex DM to break up the mucus.

Everyone was grateful for the support they had from their family, friends and neighbors that would drop off groceries, medications and things to read and do while in quarantine. Calling, texting or messaging to check in was always appreciated.

"Think of what you would want done for you," Dove said.

Bemrose added people can drop things off in a vehicle or porch and not be "face-to-face with them."

"You just don't know how it is going to affect each individual person. Do your part, wear your mask, wash your hands because the worst part about all of this is just the devastation if you are the one responsible for getting someone sick or killing someone or hospitalizing someone," said Rindal. "I think it is pretty easy to wear a mask and we live in Montana so it is pretty easy to socially distance."

Dove added that by not wearing a mask, it puts those that provide essential services like those at the clinic, schools, fire department, stores and other places at risk.

"Do you want services?" said Dove. "Please wear your mask. If you are outside of your little family please put your mask on."

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As cases started to climb this fall and rumors circulated about case numbers in Seeley Lake and the Swan Valley, the Pathfinder requested case numbers by zip code within Missoula County. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services guidance in accordance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) 3.1, numbers can be released if the geographic unit formed by combining all zip codes with the same three initial digits contains more than 20,000 people.

Since Missoula County 598XX zip code has more than 20,000 people, the Health Department responded with the, legal opinion that county-wide data is permissible. However, they would be violating HIPAA to break it down further because each separate zip code within Missoula County does not have 20,000 people.

County officials maintained in their daily briefing and press conferences that cases existed throughout the county and because there was evidence of community spread.

"I think it is going to be here and a lot of other people are going to get it," said Wilson who feels like positive cases in the community have been a point of gossip. "Reach out to people who have it instead of talking about it."

Do you need help?

The Seeley Swan Helps collaborative is a group of local volunteers organized by local churches to assist those in need. Volunteers can assist with pickup and delivery of groceries, pharmaceuticals and mail.

If you need assistance or would like to volunteer to help, please call the designated SS Helps line 406-239-9617 or email


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