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Health Board quarterly meeting looks at COVID-19 measures


Last updated 4/16/2020 at 11:40am

During the Hill County Public Health Board’s quarterly meeting Wednesday, Hill County Attorney Karen Alley said she wished to clarify and outline the roles and authority of the Health Board and Public Health Officer Jessica Sheehy in the context of the pandemic.

“(The Board’s responsibilities are) identifying, assessing, preventing and ameliorating conditions of public health importance, protecting the public health, making inspections and making sure we’re in compliance with state law,” Alley said.

She said the public health officer and their authorized representatives have the authority to take steps to limit contact between people to protect the public health from imminent threat, establish and maintain quarantine measures and remove diseased persons from a jail to a hospital or safe place.

“These roles to a certain extent complement each other,” she said.

By and large, the board is tasked with identifying and assessing and preventing conditions of public health importance and protecting the public, she said, and the health officer’s role is to create and enforce specific directives to accomplish that.

Alley said Public Health Director Kim Larson and Hill County Sanitarian Clay Vincent often act as the authorized representatives of the health officer and under those circumstances can act with similar authority.

“I thought it was timely to go over that given what we’ve been facing for the last six weeks,” Board Member and Community Representative Erica McKeon-Hanson said.

McKeon-Hanson said she thinks the role of the Public Health Department and its employees is something that needs to be better understood and recognized during the pandemic.

“I think the work of the Public Health Department is something we don’t always see. We get the benefits of it, but we don’t always see it,” she said.

Larson gave an update on how immunizations are being handled during the pandemic and the concerns that have been raised about them.

“We are closed to the public and we are not providing immunizations at this time,” Larson said. “We are currently coming up with a plan for how to do that, because immunizations are an essential service that need to continue.”

She said Bullhook Community Health Center and the Northern Montana Health Care’s clinic are still providing immunizations and she thinks people who need those procedures are getting them for now, but the situation is one that needs to be followed.

“We don’t want to have a measles outbreak on top of the COVID-19 issue that we’re having right now,” Larson said.

She also said the WIC — Women, Infants and Children — Program is still helping clients over the phone and has been helping Toole County with immunizations while they are occupied with responding to COVID-19.

She said the Public Health Department is looking to set up a temporary exam room within the waiting room of its building with privacy barriers.

Larson said this would make it so people wouldn’t have to come deeper into the building which would make it easier to clean and monitor the area. She said she hopes these plans will become available in the next few weeks.

She said using vehicles to deliver immunizations is a possibility, but the logistics of that endeavor are more complicated.

Larson also said plans are being created to making COVID-19 testing more easily available in Havre.

“I’m trying to work locally with Bullhook Community Health Center to get them testing for COVID-19,” she said.

Lead Public Health Nurse Bridget Kallenberger gave an update on measures taken across the state and country and their effectiveness in slowing the spread of COVID-19.

“All 50 states are under a disaster declaration for the first time in history,” Kallenberger said.

She said a recent Morbidity and Mortality Report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that looked at the various measures instituted around the country between February 26 and April 1, showed the measures effectively reduce community mobility and consequently slow the spread of COVID-19.

These measures include social distancing, stay-at-home orders, senior center visitation restrictions, school closures, restaurant and bar restrictions and curfews all reduce the speed of the virus’ spread and the more of them that are used the more it is slowed.

“There is no alternative like vaccines or pharmaceutical interventions to slow this pandemic,” Kallenberger said, “We all know that social distancing from those we love and canceling events is hard. It requires us to think of our community as a whole and how our actions affect others especially our neighbors who are less likely to survive a COVID-19 infection.”

Public Health Officer Jessica Sheehy reported a decrease in true influenzas has occurred since social distancing was put into effect.

“Hopefully as the weather gets nicer, we’ll get rid of some of our typical respiratory illnesses and really just focus on COVID-19,” Sheehy said.

Will Lorett, a sanitarian in training at the Hill County Health Department, reported an instance of a local business not following Gov. Steve Bullock’s COVID-19 directives.

“We had a problem with a bar in town not doing a proper shutdown for COVID-19, the police were called, people were threatened with citations if they weren’t following the governor’s orders,” Lorett said.

Sanitarian Clay Vincent also raised the concern other bars may not be following the governor’s directives as strictly as they should.

“I had assumed, and we all know what that does, that a lot of these bars would be closed, but it seems like most of them are probably open and doing carry-out which makes it difficult to try to figure out if people are sitting in around the tables,” Vincent said.

He said the department hasn’t been able to properly inspect many areas amid the pandemic.

“A lot of it may be outside of town,” he said, “We don’t get to the Hi-Line towns, or to Box Elder or other places, we’ve had some concerns about that.”

Vincent said the public should call him to report if they see any establishments not following the directives.

“If you are going by something and happen to see several people sitting at a table or something like that, we just need to know about it,” he said.

McKeon-Hanson said a recent program to deal with harmful algal blooms in Beaver Creek Park just got funded and the project will soon be starting. The project’s goals include identifying and studying harmful algal blooms in the area as well as educating the public about them. She said more information on this project will become available in the coming weeks.

The board also discussed information and documents related to the Tom Patrick Construction land application for Old Kravick Place south of Havre, but the matter was tabled with the expectation that a special meeting would be called later to deal with the issue at a later date.

The next quarterly Health Board meeting will be July 15.


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