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Hill County Health Board talks impacts of stay-at-home directive


Last updated 3/30/2020 at 11:59am

The Hill County Health Board discussed Friday the impacts of Gov. Steve Bullock’s stay-at-home directive that went into effect Saturday.

“This is a ‘shelter in place’ directive and what that means is that there are outlined essential business operations that can stay open and able to operate with limitations and those limitations being specifically following the social distancing guidelines,” Hill County Attorney Karen Alley said.

She said if a business that is not an essential business operation and doesn’t meet one of the exceptions then that needs to close.

“Basically, what this is encouraging people to stay home,” she said, “limit contact as much as possible. Citizens and members of the public are able to still go and do things like get essential groceries, pharmacy, medical supplies that they need for their home or for a family member they are caring for or that needs supplies, but beyond that citizens are being encouraged to stay home, and not engage in recreation.

“People are allowed outside of their houses for the purposes of taking a run or a walk, or a hike, or go to a public park, but beyond that not encouraging recreation, not encouraging group recreation in anyway shape or form and essentially reinforcing the social distancing guidelines that we have had for the last couple of weeks, but it would be making it more explicit of what is expected for social distancing, especially a business owner.” Alley added.

She said the businesses which are considered essential operations should try to work remotely through interactions over the phone, online, by fax and so on, when possible.

Travel, she said, is restricted to only essential traveling and people do not have to have a letter to travel.

The U.S. and Canadian governments already issued directions effective March 21 urging people to only cross the border for essential travel.

Alley said item 14 in the governor’s directive says essential travel includes for the following purposes related to the provision of access of essential activities, business operations or minimum basic operations, adding that travel for the care of the elderly, educational reasons or receiving materials and to return to the place of residence outside the jurisdiction.

“Folks should not go out for any social reasons, travel is for anything essential activity or any essential business operation,” she said. “... This keeps schools closed and doesn’t change that directive. The businesses that have been able to stay open have, I guess, to an extent, restricted access such as restaurants. They have some additional restrictions they need to comply with and look at, but beyond that if you are not an essential business listed in the directive, then businesses need to close during this time.”

If people do not follow this directive, she said, she can issue a citation or can file a pulmonary injunction with the district court.

If a business that is not an essential business does not shut down the county attorney can get involved, Alley said.

People who would like to make a complaint can make one to the Hill County Health Department or the Hill County Sheriff’s Office that would then transfer the complaint to the County Attorney.

Hill County Health Officer Jessica Sheehy said the goal for first responders and medical providers is that they have appropriate personal protective equipment in place.

“So the goal is that with the appropriate screening, either phone call or from dispatch, they should have masks, goggles and gloves in place, and should be covered in that regard,” she said. “... If they didn’t have access, we had limited personal protective equipment to some extent they would be self-quarantined for 14 days.”

She said that, right now, there is not a concern of the amount of personal protective equipment at Northern Montana Hospital and has encouraged people to use it when necessary, but reusing it to some extent as far as N95 masks.

N95 refers to what percentage of particles are filtered by the mask.

“We are using reusable gowns that can be laundered. They sterilize to try and cut back on that, but at this point I don’t think we have any concern,” Sheehy said. 

In specific regards to salons, barbershops, tattoo parlors, she said, from this directive are all closed.

She added that as for child care those businesses are considered under essential businesses and are allowed to remain open.

As for testing capabilities, she said, the governor said in a conference call last Tuesday that the state of Montana received 4,000 test kits, but she is unaware of how those will be distributed and when they will receive them.

“We are still leaving to kind of a provider basis, but really it is pretty restrictive to symptomatology, travel specifically travel out of country at this point, although we are considering some of the hot spots that CDC has not made official recommendation and really keeping people at home as much as possible,” Sheehy said. “It’s a valid concern and I’m sure we all have it, I think they are looking at different testing mediums and such, but I haven’t actually seen that affect opening more testing options up for us as providers.”  

“The goal, really, is that people take this seriously and stay home,” she said. “The goal is that we won’t have to turn the sheriff’s office (out) on Highway 2 to keep people at home and out of harm’s way.”

The next Board of Health conference call meeting is set for Friday at 1 p.m.


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