Mask order in effect to combat virus case spikes

Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, July 22, 2020
Plans needed

Beaverhead County Public Health board member Charlotte Quist asks about plans for some events for Dillon History Days, which the board has not yet seen. Board member (back) Carla Weidinger listens in. J.P. Plutt photo


Beaverhead County Sheriff Paul Craft was pulled out of Friday’s public health board meeting on Friday to speak to a woman upset over the treatment of her husband at a Dillon business. The woman claimed her husband can’t wear a mask due to health issues. J.P. Plutt photo

Coronavirus-positive case spikes across the state prompted Gov. Steve Bullock to issue a mask requirement last week for counties with four or more active cases.

Beaverhead County is one of those, with five active cases tallied as of Monday afternoon, according to the public health department.

Montana has seen spikes of 60- to more than 130 positive cases daily over the past week, with the fastest case counts appearing in Yellowstone, Gallatin, Missoula, Lake and Big Horn counties. Madison County’s total overall cases increased from 34 to 47; Beaverhead tallied 12 total cases Tuesday according to the state of Montana.

Public health officials noted the state map data is updated once daily. Public health has the most recent information, as it receives notice of positive cases as soon as they are confirmed.

Public health is investigating six new cases as of Friday. Three new cases are “presumptive positive,” meaning the department considers them positive unless the state lab confirms a negative result.

The newest cases are a woman in her 50s, a man in his 20s and a man in his 80s; all were symptomatic at the time of testing. The source of infection for the woman is unknown; the 20-year-old and the 80-year-old were contacts of a positive case.

The remaining two new cases are a woman in her 60s and a man in his 80s. Investigation is pending for their contacts, public health officials said.

According to the state of Montana’s COVID-19 tracking website on Tuesday, Beaverhead’s total positive cases include a girl under age 10, a teenage male, two men and a woman in their 20s, a woman in her 30s, a woman and man in their 40s, a woman in her 50s, a woman in her 60s, and two men in their 80s. The woman in her 20s was diagnosed in April and has since cleared the virus.

Four of Beaverhead’s positive cases were slated to leave isolation Monday, leaving the county with five active cases. A case diagnosed late in the course of the disease is off isolation. One case – the man in his 20s – was placed in isolation after coming into contact with a positive case. He fell within the criteria to discontinue isolation due to the lateness of his test result confirming positivity.

Public health officials said individuals tested through the July 10 community screening event should assume their test is negative; public health will contact individuals if the test is positive. Officials asked the public to not call the office seeking test results.

Montana has 2,712 confirmed cases and has seen 40 deaths from the virus as of Tuesday, or 760 more cases and six more deaths than at the same time last week. Nationally, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tallied more than 3.7 million coronavirus cases and more than 140,000 deaths as of Monday.

Of the latest deaths, five were in Yellowstone County. The sixth death occurred in Lewis & Clark County.

The statewide mask directive requires businesses and sponsors of outdoor activities to deny entry or refuse service to those not wearing a face covering or mask in their establishment or at their event; it also allows local authorities to enforce the failures under the state’s trespassing laws. Exceptions are included for medical reasons; children under age five; individuals engaged in strenuous activity; those consuming food and drink; those undergoing a medical evaluation; and a couple of other situations.

Local public health officials discussed the mask requirement at a Friday meeting, but did not issue any local directives for enforcement. Public health also approved plans for the upcoming county fair and rodeo, but not plans for the annual concert (see related stories).

Local law enforcement encouraged residents to abide by the mask requirement, regardless of personal opinions or political leanings.

“I shudder to think of your officers having to be forced to make the decision to cite a fellow citizen on this issue,” Dillon Police Chief Don Guiberson said. “Your officers are all so grateful for your continued support, and by simply following the governor’s mandate you will continue to support us, so we are not put in a very undesirable position. COVID has not stopped criminals and they continue to perform their antics, and we need to be able to focus on those immediate issues. Our officers value the Dillon community and the last thing we want is to be placed as pawns in the middle of a political argument, especially in these times.”

Guiberson also asked residents to respect the mask requirement as they patronize local businesses: “They need our patronage now more than ever. They need us in their stores. They are supporting Dillon families and are part of our community. The mandate says we need to wear masks to patronize their establishments, please do this for them.”

County Sheriff Paul Craft said law enforcement officials will lean toward educating people about the mandate over issuing tickets.

“It is my understanding that enforcement is the responsibility of the establishment and/or persons responsible for indoor spaces open to the public to follow the guidelines,” he said. “Should there be violations, education is going to be first and foremost. In the event that violations continue, information will be forwarded to the county attorney’s office for further action.”

Area school officials continue to prepare plans for possible in-person instruction for the school year, but those plans have not been finalized. Area districts are also preparing bus routes with virus precautions in mind.