Board approves Labor Day parade plans

Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The Dillon Jaycee Labor Day Parade has been approved by the City/ County Health Board. The theme this year is “Back the Blue.” J.P. Plutt photo

Beaverhead County’s decline in active coronavirus cases pushed it below the threshold for the statewide mask mandate, though public health officials continue to urge residents to wear them regardless.

Citing a flurry of events that could cause local cases to spike, Public Health Director Sue Hansen asked the board to consider requiring masks regardless of how many active cases are in the county.

“Speaking with other healthcare professionals, this is the calm before the storm. With colleges starting, schools starting, rodeos and now this large fire in the community, I feel like we’re just waiting for something to happen,” she said at the Friday board meeting. “I’m still a proponent of wearing masks all the time – this bouncing back and forth is ridiculous.”

Hansen referred to Gov. Steve Bullock’s mask order, requiring masks in counties with four or more active COVID-19 cases. Bullock recently insisted K-12 schools require masks in counties with four or more active cases.

Hansen noted Phillips County had no cases up until a couple of weeks ago, but then its caseload exploded. Many of those cases can be traced back to a sporting tournament and subsequent social events.

“I think we need to keep in mind how fast it can turn,” she said.

Hansen said there are businesses in Beaverhead County that are putting signs up on their doors saying masks are unconstitutional and they will not serve people wearing them.

“I get a lot of complaints about that,” she said, not naming the businesses specifically. “Complaints about how come this business is complying and this one isn’t, and nothing’s happening to them? I don’t know what to say to that, but it isn’t right.”

Board member Charlotte Quist said she agrees with the idea of requiring masks, but she also wanted law enforcement officials to chime in on the issue.

“I’m very sympathetic to the burden this places on law enforcement,” she said. “I’m really uncomfortable putting law enforcement in this position.”

Board member Nicole Hazelbaker encouraged public health to create a document for the board to review. She noted that the University of Montana Western requires all of its students, staff and visitors to wear masks on campus, regardless of how many active cases are currently in the county. She also noted the UMW football team has been practicing with masks on, even when they are outside.

“It would sure help us if Beaverhead County would also do that,” she said, referring to the mask requirement. “This football team with their coaches, their athletic trainers, the athletic director are really following the precautions. They are following it and doing it, because they don’t want to spread (the virus).”

Board member and city of Dillon Mayor Mike Klakken said he is not certain even a board of health mask mandate could be enforced on public spaces, like parks and streets.

“You can’t stop the public from coming onto their property – state, county or city property,” he said.

County Coroner Julie Briggs encouraged the board to research the effectiveness of masks. She also encouraged the board – if they choose to require masks – to include information on the proper way to wear them.

Hansen said she would work with the county attorney and local police on a draft document requiring mask usage, to ensure it is compliant with state laws. The draft may be discussed at the board’s next meeting.

The board approved plans for the annual Labor Day parade 6-1, with health officer Dr. Megan Evans voting against the parade. The parade will follow its traditional route, though entries must be submitted early. There will be no same-day entry registration, Jason Schumacher of the Dillon Jaycees said (see related story).

Evans and Hansen expressed concerns over spectators not maintaining social distancing protocols as a big worry.

Evans also asked the Jaycees to reconsider their plans for the rodeo on behalf of the local medical providers. Evans was one of two people on the board who voted against the event.

“This is just a final plea. The medical providers are quite concerned – we’ve had to store supplies and try to get prepared for this, and we’re worried that in two weeks, after all this perfect storm, we will be overwhelmed again. We just ask that you reconsider it strongly as a group,” she said. “I do not know that you have any legal liability, but I do think there may be some moral liability. Just ask yourselves how you would feel if people do get sick after that. I think it’s a really serious thing to consider, and I think it’s only in your hands right now.”

Schumacher said the Jaycees respect the concerns of the public health board and medical community.

The next public health board meeting is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 11.