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Contact tracing and essential health services discussed in county officials meeting

Hill County department heads gathered to provide updates on their respective departments’ recent activities at their monthly county officials meeting Thursday, including the health department’s recent efforts to lighten their employees’ workload while keeping up with contact tracing and other services.

Hill County Public Health Director Kim Larson, who was recently given the role of Hill County Health Officer as well, said her department continues to work on contact tracing and COVID-19 mitigation.

Larson said in a meeting last week that her department was starting to feel a bit overwhelmed by the amount of work involved in contact tracing and Thursday she detailed some things the department is doing to remedy the issue.

The first was using a system called Sara Alert which Larson said is designed to make contact tracing more efficient and was installed in the department on Wednesday.

She said she hopes will take some of the burden off of her employees so the essential services her department would normally be working on this time of year can be continued.

She said she’s also it looking at hiring temporary contact tracers and an immunization nurse to assist with the distribution and administration of this year’s flu vaccine.

Larson said the health department will be working with Blaine County to pool resources and set up a flu shot drive-through clinic which will serve both counties.

She said the department doesn’t

yet have the high-dose versions of the vaccine, typically used by people 65 and older, but it should be available in October.

However, she said the department does have regular flu shots and they’re offering to administer them two days a week by appointment at the office.

Larson also provided an update on the situation at the Northern Montana Care Center, where a staff member recently tested positive for COVID-19, causing the building to go into quarantine.

She said all residents and staff in the facility will have been tested by 5 p.m. Thursday.

“We’re hoping it doesn’t get out-of-hand and become a large outbreak,” she said.

Larson also provided county officials with details concerning new requirements by the state to have schools report the number of COVID-19 cases they find so the data can be released to the public while maintaining personal privacy.

Schools with more than 50 students will have their names and county of location displayed along with the number of positives among students and staff. Schools with between 11 and

50 students will have their positives visible as well, but no distinction will be made between students and staff, and schools with 10 or fewer students will not be shown at all.

Larson also expressed her appreciation for the department heads

who have helped promote her department’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts, which she said continue to be a vital part of maintaining public health.

Hill County Commissioner Mike Wendland encouraged people to be patient and realize that reporting COVID-19-related data can be difficult with everything else going on and that lag in data reporting can happen even with everyone trying their hardest to keep up.

“Everyone’s doing the best they can,” he said.

Hill County Clerk and Recorder Sue Armstrong provided an update on her department’s activities related to the 2020 Election, in which active registered voters will have ballots mailed to them and can vote entirely by mail in Hill County.

Armstrong recommended that county employees check the addresses on their voter registrations to make sure they are accurate and if they need assistance to get in touch with her or go online to the My Voter Page of the Montana Secretary of State’s website, .

She said her department has been working on contacting people whose ballots were undeliverable during the primary. She said the department had been making calls, following up and doing everything possible to make sure people are able to vote efficiently in the upcoming election.

“Our offices went above and beyond what the law requires us to do,” she said. “From then on we do have to leave some responsibility on the voters.”

Armstrong said she’s been working on setting up a satellite voting office on Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation as well.

Mail-in ballots will be available to be picked up at the Hill County Courthouse Oct. 2-8 and will be mailed out Oct. 9.

Armstrong said ballot drop boxes will be available on election day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Community Center in Hingham as well as the the District 4 Human Resources Development Council building in Havre, Stone Child College on Rocky Boy, and at Box Elder School.

Hill County Disaster and Emergency Services Coordinator Amanda Frickel said she’s been trying to make sure that election officials have all the sanitizer and equipment they need in preparation for the election.

Frickel also provided a brief update on this year’s fire season, which she said might be coming to a close for Hill County.

“We’ve had a very busy fire season,” she said, “hopefully now we are coming out of fire season.”

Hill County Building Manager Daryl Anez also provided an update on projects being worked on by his department, including the installation of the chiller unit in the Hill County Courthouse which he said should be two weeks out from being operational.

Anez said the condenser unit installed on the top of the building has been bolted down and pipe work is proceeding in the lower level of the courthouse.

At the Hill County Commission’s weekly business meeting later that day Wendland said the cost of the project was about $19,500.

Anez also provided a potential timeline for the repairs being made to the courthouse’s elevator, which he hopes will be operational in early October, but he said it may be unwise to count on that.

“It looks like the first week of October, hopefully we’ll get that up and running again, but that’s if everything goes the way it should, but nothing ever does,” he said. “ … I’m just crossing my fingers.”

He said even if delays occur, the repairs should be done by winter at least, with the modernization half of the project coming later. In the meantime, he said, he’s going to be working on winterizing Hill County’s equipment.

At the commission business meeting, Wendland said the county has paid for 50 percent of the replacement in advance, about $30,000.

Hill County Commissioner Mark Peterson also provided an update on what the Hill County Commission has been working on including the Milk River Levee project, repairs on Beaver Creek Dam, and installing new cameras in the courthouse, as well as a new wireless internet system.

He said these projects are in various stages of development and the commission would keep people updated.

Hill County Commissioner Diane McLean said she’s working with the Hill County Auditor Kathy Olson on documenting how money from the CARES Act has been spent in the county, and what funds can still be applied for.

Hill County Extension Agent Jasmine Carbajal said her fellow agent Tom Allen is organizing a 2020 pest management tour for agricultural producers and he wanted everyone to know that Tuesday, Oct. 6, presenters would be at the chuck wagon to provide pesticide education to anyone interested.

Carbajal said other than that and a food handling class being held today, there is not much going on at 4-H that needs to be addressed.

Carbajal said she recently turned in her official resignation and said she would be leaving Montana to be with her parents, who have been facing some medical problems.

Carbajal’s official last day will be Sept. 30, but she still has vacation time left so she may no longer be in the office as of Sept. 24.

Wendland said he appreciated her time at Extension.

Hill County Attorney Karen Alley said Brittany Pfeifer, former administrative assistant to the Hill County commissioners, has been officially hired as personnel clerk and part-time legal secretary in the Hill County Attorney’s Office.


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