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Health Board Discusses Phase Two of state re-opening


Last updated 5/26/2020 at 12:05pm

The Hill County Health Board met via GoToMeeting Friday and provided various status updates and discussed Phase Two of Gov. Bullock’s re-opening plan.

Hill County Health Officer Jessica Sheehy and Public Health Director Kim Larson said they have been spending much of the last two weeks communicating with local businesses about Phase Two and how to proceed re-opening under the new rules that go into effect June 1.

“The main highlights are that it increases the group size to 50 people, and some businesses that were previously limited to 50 percent capacity are now up to 75 percent capacity,” Sheehy said.

She said the general sanitation requirements of Phase One will still be the same and the 14-day quarantine for out-of-state visitors will be lifted.

Sheehy said the Hill County Health Department is working on providing more concrete guidance for businesses as Phase Two draws closer.

“Working with (Hill County Attorney Karen Alley) and Kim, we’re coming up with some, I’m gonna say, educational items for different businesses that have reached out to us,” she said.

Larson said the Health Department has received a lot of questions about tavern operation, specifically whether patrons can now sit or congregate at the bar itself.

She said she had yet to receive specific guidance from the governor’s office, but her understanding is that Phase Two does not permit patrons to be at the bar.

She also said the Health Department is looking to create some guidance for people looking to operate events with more than 50 attendees.

“We’re hoping to create some kind of document, not necessarily an application, but something people can fill out and give to the Health Department so we can work with them on making those events happen in a safe manner for Hill County,” Larson said.

She said the Health Department has also been working with the Havre Youth Baseball Association who will be allowed to hold games in Phase Two. She said there are plans in place for how to follow social distancing guidelines if more than 50 people show up to these games.

Alley said she’s been working with Larson and Sheehy as they as they consult with businesses throughout the re-opening. She said there have been no citations issued to businesses not following guidelines and she thinks people are responding positively to the Health Department’s efforts.

“People have responded really well to our educational opportunities,” she said.

At the meeting Hill County Commissioner Diane McLean said she was concerned about the continued closure of playgrounds and city parks in the area.

“To me, that’s really concerning that we’re not offering that to our kids and our population,” McLean said.

Larson said the Health Department only requires some signage in the area of those playgrounds and parks and had nothing to do with the decision to shut those places down.

“That was a city choice, we did not close the city parks, the city closed them, so it’s up to them to open them again,” she said.

McLean said she worries that the continued closure of these places is an indicator that schools will not be returning to normal anytime soon.

“We’re at the beginning of a summer for kids … if we’re not even able to see them play in a playground with other people, I can’t imagine schools going back to any kind of normalcy when school comes and that’s by concern,” she said.

During the meeting, Larson also said, there is no way to know when Phase Three will come yet, and that the possibility remains that Phase Two would be rolled back.

“If we go into Phase Two and cases dramatically increase due to some exposure at some event then we might be pushed back into Phase One,” she said, “It just depends on what happens as we move forward.”

At the meeting, Sheehy also provided an update on the state’s testing plans. She said sentinel testing, testing asymptomatic individuals for COVID-19, has begun at more vulnerable communities around the state including the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, which held drive-through testing recently.

Sandra Friede of the Rocky Boy Health Center’s Public Health Department said there are plans for sentinel testing there and will be some outreach related to it Thursday and Friday of this week.

Larson also said the department had received a pair of grants since the last meeting. The first was a grant from the Addictive and Mental Disorders Division for $40,000 to work with behavioral health partners in Hill County.

The second was $73,000 of CARES Act funding that will go towards COVID-19 related issues, including health services that have seen setbacks due to the pandemic.

During the meeting Hill County Extension Agent Jasmine Carbajal said the extension office still has masks available to members of the public.


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