Health Department cautions Fourth of July events as cases rise

With an influx of visitors and coronavirus cases entering the Fourth of July weekend, the Missoula City-County Health Department asked event coordinators to be cautious on what is one of the busiest holidays in Seeley Lake. Though events are looking different than previous years, the county is excited with how the community of Seeley is handling the pandemic. 

“We have actually really good interactions with folks and they clearly care about doing the right thing with their community,” said Alisha Johnson, Health Department Public Information Officer, COVID-19.  “We don’t want [the coronavirus] to impact our state, but with that said we are asking people that want to do events follow the requirements that we have outlined so that spread doesn’t continue.”

The state of Montana recently finished an entire month in the second phase of Governor Steve Bullock’s reopening plan. Phase two allowed tourists to enter into the state without a mandatory two week quarantine and also allowed restaurants, bars and other businesses to operate with a higher capacity. 

Since the reopening, cases have begun to climb across the state, including a record high 56 cases on June 29. Across Montana, there were a total of 919 cases and 13 active hospitalizations as of June 29.

In a press conference June 26, Bullock outlined how Montana is trying to stay ahead of the curve by using extensive contact tracing, as well as campaigning for people to wear masks while in public.

“There’s no doubt that we’ve seen a spike in cases since phase two began,” Bullock said. “While we’re still the lowest number of cases per capita in the United States and we are again for this week... we do have to recognize that there are increased cases.”

Bullock also said how the virus can spread quickly from one person at their place of work, their household and their frequently visited areas. He said one way to prevent the spread of the virus would be to social distance when possible and to wear a mask in public spaces.

“We’re not asking folks to wear a mask at all times. It makes no sense to do so when you’re fishing with your family or you’re driving in your car alone,” Bullock said. “But do so at the grocery store, the pharmacy, grabbing a coffee or going into the gas station. That 15 minutes of inconvenience can make all the difference between one case turning into a dozen or more.”

When a person tests positive for the coronavirus, local health departments race to reach close contacts and attempt to stem the spread of the virus from reaching the larger community. 

In Missoula County, over 45 total active cases were reported as of June 29, the highest number so far in the pandemic. Johnson said the Health Department wants the county to continue events when possible, but also noted they need to follow safety protocol. 

“We are concerned, especially for people coming in potentially from areas where there are more COVID cases,” said Johnson.

The event requirements are separated into two categories. If an event is under 50 people total, then the event can proceed normally, though the state recommends social distancing when possible. If an event is over 50, the county asks coordinators to form a plan that includes social distancing, as well as potential contact tracing help and routine disinfection.

Johnson noted events in Seeley Lake have done an excellent job getting their plans approved. 

“The farmers market organizer reached out and made sure they had a good plan in place so people can go to the market and keep that event going,” Johnson said.

The market on June 28 featured one entrance and exit spot for roughly 10 vendors. Shoppers also filled out a contact card that has their phone number, as well as which stands they visited in case contact tracing is needed. A map of the layout was also presented in the back of the market.

The Health Department also coordinated with Kyle Zumwalt from the Seeley Lake Volunteer Fire Foundation for the Fourth of July Pancake Breakfast fundraiser. Johnson said they worked to ensure the event can happen in the safest standard possible. 

Johnson said, “[We are trying to keep] things open, but also that there is enough structure that COVID doesn’t take root in anything.”


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