The entire nation and much of the world has been affected by fear of COVID-19, but perhaps none are as concerned as those diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. This population, with its scarred lungs and fragile health, knows that exposure to the virus could be a death sentence. Their concerns are in particularly high evidence in Libby, Montana.
Mesothelioma-Stricken Residents of Montana County Fear Impact of COVID-19
The residents of Libby, Montana and surrounding towns are at high risk for malignant mesothelioma, asbestosis and other asbestos-related diseases. This is because their community was once the site of the W.R. Grace vermiculite plant, which spread asbestos to nearly every corner of the immediate area. Lincoln County, where Libby is located, has one of the nation’s highest asbestos mortality rates in the nation.
With their population already having lost 400 people to mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer and at least one in ten living residents diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, an outbreak of COVID-19 could prove catastrophic to the community.
Health Professionals Express Concern About COVID-19 and Residents With Mesothelioma
According to Miles Miller, a physician assistant at the Libby-based Center for Asbestos Related Disease, people with lungs weakened by mesothelioma are particularly vulnerable to complications from the virus. “Our patients having an underlying lung disease that would make recovery from COVID-19 more difficult,” Miller said. Though the town has managed to avoid the virus with rigorous testing, tracking and prevention, they are now beginning to see case numbers climb.
Miller says that Lincoln County’s number of confirmed cases has doubled from where it was in late summer to a current count of 170, and he worries that mesothelioma patients and those with asbestosis will suffer as a result. The county has implemented a mask mandate that goes beyond that of the rest of the state, and though some residents have chafed at restrictions, others believe that they’re necessary. Said one resident who remembers playing near piles of asbestos as a child, “We’re already afraid here, so it’s kind of like one more shake of the dice. You can’t live every day in fear. But here we do.”
Even before COVID-19, mesothelioma robbed its victims of their future. For information on the resources available to you, contact the Patient Advocates at Mesothelioma.net at 1-800-692-8608.