VCHD Passes New Health Order
November 18, 2020
The Valley County Health Board passed an updated health order on Nov. 16 expanding on orders issued by the governor of Montana and tightening COVID-19-prevention restrictions on crowd sizes regardless of setting, ability to social distance and whether the venue is outdoors.
The order came after four public meetings spanning more than a month. In each meeting public comments, updates from local health care institutions, government and businesses dragged out a debate about what the county could do to curb what, in October, appeared to be a growing health crisis at Frances Mahon Deaconess Hospital. During the initial meeting to discuss the action on Oct. 21, county health officer Dr. Anne Millard said she was asking for a countywide reset of four weeks to alleviate pressure on the hospital, which was said to be at capacity at the time.
On Oct. 18, Dr. Millard held a digital townhall to tell the county to take the measures to mitigate COVID-19 more seriously and to provide an update to the situation at the hospital. In mid-October FMDH was treating up to 12 inpatients, nine of whom were COVID positive. Since that time, the numbers have dropped to a more manageable number.
Part of the drop is likely attributable to a push by the county and the Glasgow Area Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture to promote mask wearing as a means to keep numbers low and businesses open. A motivation to prevent another shutdown or reduction of services increased mask use across the community and likely drove numbers down.
The new health order does not address current orders already in place. It does address crowd sizes which have grown since the county hit phase two of the governor’s plan to reopen. In phase two, indoor groups where social distancing is impossible were limited to 50 people. Under the county’s new order all groups are limited to 50 people whether they be outside, in large venues or social distancing is possible.
The order will not apply to houses of worship, which will be limited to 75 percent of their total occupancy, but they must also social distance worshippers. The order will also not apply to cafeterias serving nursing homes, schools and hospitals. Lastly, schools, youth sports and childcare facilities will not be affected by the order but will remain under the orders and guidance set by the governor.
As of Nov. 13, the county reported 52 active COVID-19 cases, 420 recovered cases and six deaths. In the time between Nov. 9 and 13, the county added a total of 30 cases with at least one case in every age demographic from 10-99 years old. The largest group infected were aged 50-59 with seven reported cases in the four-day period. Of the cases 17 were female and 13 were male.
At the statewide level numbers continue to grow exponentially. As of Nov. 16, the state was reporting 48,027 reported cases with 20,009 of those still active—a ratio of 41.66 percent. Of those active cases, 453 were hospitalized pushing some major hospitals and intensive-care units to capacity around the state. Montana has lost 522 residents to COVID-19.