Mask directive discussed at County Officials' Meeting
July 17, 2020
Hill County officials and department heads met Thursday to provide their monthly updates and discuss recent COVID-19 developments including Gov. Steve Bullock’s recent directive requiring people in certain indoor situations and large outdoor gatherings to wear face masks.
Hill County Public Health Director Kim Larson said her department has been inundated with calls about the recent directive and she encouraged people with questions to get in touch with her via email, but said it might take time for her to get back given the volume of inquiries.
She said the department has emailed updated guidelines regarding masks to all the establishments they have on record.
She said county employees that deal with the public must wear masks under this directive, but she encouraged people working in offices closed to the public to wear masks anyway to protect their co-workers.
Larson also clarified a point of potential confusion regarding the mask directive.
She said if you are eating at a restaurant or drinking at a bar you are not required to wear a mask, but if you are just hanging out and talking you do.
“We’re getting a little bit of push back from people who think that they are exempt when they are at events where food is being served,” she said.
Larson asked Hill County Commissioner Mark Peterson if the commission had applied for funds from the CARES Act, and he said they were communicating with department heads to see what expenses their respective organizations have, and that applying for that funding is a top priority.
Larson said the commission should also be asking departments to look at future expenses as well.
“It’s not just looking back at what you’ve spent, it’s planning ahead for what may happen, because COVID-19 is not going to go away any time soon,” she said.
She also said they should be looking at contingency plans for continuing operations in the event of an office needing to be shut down and what that would cost to run.
Peterson brought up his own concern regarding masks during the meeting as well, citing the recent influx of people from out of state in the area.
“We’ve had a tremendous influx of out of state people,” he said, “Either driving through town, we’ve had quite a few in the park, we’ve had quite a few in Fresno, way more than we’ve ever had in the past.”
He said the public needs to be aware of this influx and be serious about wearing masks.
Larson also said she’s been in contact with Montana State University-Northern to discuss what re-opening would look like.
She said Northern has cloth masks available for staff and students and she said if the campus were to re-open in the coming months it would fall under the governor’s directive, which only exempts K-12 schools.
Larson also said she’d been in contact with Havre Public Schools to talk about sporting events and that they are trying to set up a meeting next week to look at plans for potentially re-opening up in the fall.
Disaster and Emergency Services Coordinator Amanda Frickel said she’s received a lot of questions about the county’s preparedness for an outbreak and has been in touch with Northern Montana Health Care.
She said the hospital is stocked with six ICU beds and six ventilators and they’re set up for 50 COVID-19 hospitalizations.
She added that the hospital currently does not have the staff to accommodate that many patients.
Frickel also said she started a new Facebook page for DES which she’s been using to distribute information about the pandemic.
“I’ve been just blasting it with COVID Information,” she said.
Hill County Clerk and Recorder Sue Armstrong said running a traditional poll election amid the pandemic might be difficult because she’s already had people say they didn’t feel safe work at the polls given the circumstances.
“We’ve already had numerous judges say they would not work if it was a poll election, so we’re open for another mail ballot, but we don’t know if that’s going to happen,” she said.
Hill County Commissioner Mike Wendland asked when that decision should be made about whether to do a mail-in vote for the upcoming election.
As soon as possible, Armstrong said.
Frickel said if there is a poll election there should be enough masks for people working the polls.
Hill County Extension Agent Jasmine Carbajal said her office still has some masks available and that Extension would continue to give them out as long as they were available.
Hill County Treasurer Sandy Brown said she’s confirmed that all banks in the area have closed their lobbies except for Stockman Bank, which she hasn’t had a chance to check on yet.
Mosquito District Supervisor and Weed District Coordinator Terry Turner also provided an update on his activities in those districts.
Turner said he had crews working on taking care of poisonous plants in Beaver Creek Park.
He also said they’ve been observing an infestation of oxeye daisy and he’s concerned about the species making its way to the park.
“The ski bowl area looks like it’s got snow on it,” he said.
On the mosquito side of things, he also mentioned West Nile Virus, which he said, typically peaks this time of year.
“We might have another virus in the air here shortly,” he said.
Hill County Undersheriff Stan Martin also provide a brief update on his department’s activities and made an announcement about their personnel.
“We’re fully staffed with deputies, finally,” he said.