BILLINGS — On a day that Montana smashed its single-day record for most COVID-19 cases with 932, Gov. Steve Bullock held a news conference to talk about measures that can be taken to make sure that more businesses comply with health orders.
Gov. Bullock says both state and federal resources are being provided to assist counties that need help enforcing mandates. “The virus will keep on spreading if there are no protections in place and no accountability to the restrictions that we already have."
Part of the plan to change that in Yellowstone County, which has the most COVID-19 cases in the state, includes hiring four COVID-19 education liaison officers using CARES Act money to investigate complaints.
County health officer John Felton says there have been hundreds of complaints since the pandemic began. Ideally, he says the liaison officers will have a law enforcement background and be familiar with Montana law.
“If they do validate the complaint, the business, organization, or individual will receive education about compliance expectations and guidance on how to demonstrate compliance. That business, organization, or individual will also be informed that an unannounced follow-up visit will occur. If the second visit validates the complaint again evidence gathered by the liaison will be turned over to the county attorney’s office and to me as county health officer," said Felton.
While the effort is mostly educational, it does also have some teeth if necessary. Felton says those found in violation a second time could face charges from the county attorney and that he also has the power to close a building down.
All of those who spoke at Thursday’s news conference say that most businesses are playing by the rules, but say those who aren’t are putting everyone at risk.
“Our position at the Billings Chamber of Commerce is that in order to keep the business community at large open as well as to get the high number of cases under control, there must be enforcement behind local and state mandates,” said John Brewer, president of the Billings Chamber of Commerce.
Gov. Bullock also announced that the state health department is launching a new page where people can report their concerns. The complaint form can be found on the Montana Department of Health and Human Services website.
Watch the full news conference below.