COVID Numbers Spark Letter from Health Department
February 10, 2021
"Valley County, we are headed in the wrong direction." Those were the opening words to a letter from Valley County Health Department Director, Lynn Miller, on Feb. 4 to the entire county. In the letter Miller highlighted a number of issues with the county's rising COVID-19 numbers, a disregard for social distancing, the still-in-effect mask mandate and the slow pace of vaccinations.
"On one hand we have our older residents who are very concerned for their health, concerned about contracting COVID, and are concerned that vaccine is not getting to Valley County fast enough," wrote Miller.
But on the other hand, Miller explained, a younger demographic in the county were all but uncooperative with measures to mitigate the spread of the virus.
"We have younger, mobile people who refuse to cooperate with testing, isolation, quarantine, and contact tracing," she wrote. "We have people who claim that these prevention measures interfere with their rights. We have people who claim to be patriots but neglect to acknowledge their responsibility to participate in a civilized society the way that best protects everyone, especially those who are vulnerable."
She pointed out that residents want to keep sports and school going but aren't willing to wear a mask to keep those activities going. Miller also highlighted an alarming trend in the community. According to the health department director, multiple people who have tested positive report at least one to five people they know who are currently sick but unwilling to be tested indicating the numbers in the county may skew low in comparison to actual cases.
"We now have a high level of COVID-19 in our community. Persons who do cooperate with contact testing have reported that they each know of 1-5 persons each who are currently sick but won't get tested for the virus. This does not help our community to get on top of the current situation! The last time our active COVID case numbers went up in September, it took four months for our county to get back to a safer level. We have had 13 new positives in the last 24 hours, so that means that 13-65 people who may be sick with COVID and are possibly infecting others."
The county was up to 58 active cases at the time of the letter-a number that has since dropped to 37 active cases as of Feb. 9.
Miller also sought to clarify a number of misconceptions about mask mandates and social distancing requirements. She clarified that a mask mandate is still in effect and has not yet been lifted by Governor Gianforte. In January, the governor put into place a lighter version of the previous statewide health order that encouraged accommodations for social distancing and CDC best practices guidelines but required businesses to make their employees and patrons wear masks and follow business best practices during the pandemic.
"Individual responsibility remains Montana's best tool to combat the spread of COVID-19," opened Gianforte's mandate on Jan. 13. He went on to say in consultation with public health experts, healthcare providers, business leaders and emergency management professionals and "relying on scientific evidence and data" he was mandating that public events be managed in accordance with CDC guidelines, businesses require social distancing; temperature checks and/or symptom screening; testing, isolation and contact tracing; sanitation; disinfect high-traffic areas; and teleworking where possible.
He also kept in place a mask mandate for the state that requires a face covering that covers the mouth and nose in all buildings. He included under the mandate outdoor activities that do not allow for social distancing. The governor has indicated that he will lift the ban but not until after certain benchmarks are met on vaccinating vulnerable people and a bill passed by the state legislature to reform statewide liability laws and provide relief to businesses in Montana is signed into law.
To date, 10 Valley County residents have passed away due to the virus and 1,314 Montanans have died in all from COVID-19.