HELENA — Lewis & Clark Public Health officials in Helena had a clear message for the community on Wednesday: Avoid large gatherings.
“We are social beings; we want to be together,” said Health Officer Drenda Niemann. “It’s summertime in Montana; we want to do the things that we’ve always done – but this is not the time.”
Local health officials held a news conference urging people to limit any large group events as the number of COVID-19 cases in Montana continues to spike.
They were joined by representatives from St. Peter’s Health hospital, the city of Helena, Lewis & Clark County, and the business community.
Public Health leaders say they’re advising against any gatherings of more than 50 people at this time, and that all events should be limited to an absolute maximum of 250 people.
Anyone organizing an event with more than 50 people is supposed to work with Public Health on a plan for ensuring social distancing.
Niemann said the agency has received more than 30 event plans that they are currently reviewing. She said she’s concerned many of those plans don’t include enough measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“Plans that have been submitted that look really good on paper may not be able to be fully operationalized, which puts people at risk,” she said. “Some event organizers are completely disregarding public health advice.”
Leaders say large gatherings are inherently risky at this time – and that they can make it more difficult for the people trying to track the spread of the disease.
Eric Merchant, administrator of Lewis & Clark Public Health’s Disease Control and Prevention Division, said any infected person who attended a large event has a large pool of potential contacts.
That makes it especially difficult for the contact tracing teams that follow up after a case is reported. “Please, do not actively participate in limiting our ability to contain disease,” Merchant said.
Public Health also announced Wednesday that they have linked several recent cases in the Augusta area to a recent nearby wedding. Merchant said they’re concerned that cluster may continue to grow in the coming days.
“We really just sincerely hope that we don’t see a large outbreak associated with this event,” he said. “That’s what we’re talking about today: the whole idea that gatherings provide that opportunity for a ‘super-spreader’ type of environment.”
Pivot Physical Therapy in Choteau posted the following message on Facebook on Tuesday:
- My family has had a rough day....☹ We went to an outside wedding venue 10 days ago. We found out yesterday morning that somebody at the wedding was tested positive for COVID. So we did the responsible thing and the whole family got tested right away. We notified anyone who we had been in close contact with. Our test results came back this afternoon around 4:30 p.m., which showed that I tested negative, Bill tested positive, Brody tested positive, Blake tested positive. The symptoms are mild for us, including headache, dry cough and neck ache. None of us had a fever, runny nose or diarrhea.
- My point being is that we all knew that at some point it was going to get to Teton County. The thing that we all need to do is to try to avoid giving it to elderly and immunocompromised people. If you are experiencing any of these mild symptoms please make sure to go and get yourself tested for Covid. Our doctor explained to us that - 92% of the cases are very asymptomatic or mild.Please don't be ashamed, it is always best to go get tested and come back negative or positive and it is our responsibility to try to keep as many people as safe as possible.
- My business will most likely be closed for the next two weeks, unless I can get a backup fill in physical therapist to come into treat patients. I hope that you are all understanding of the current situation.
Public Health leaders urged people to wear cloth masks when they are out in public and to continue physical distancing. They said they don’t want to implement additional mandates, but that they need the public to take this guidance seriously.
“We can do our part, and it’s so easy to do, because what we need to do is just wear our mask for each other,” said Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins.
“We believe in this community,” said Niemann. “We believe the people in this community will do the right thing, and the right thing is to follow the instructions that we’ve given thus far.”You can find updated information on COVID-19 on the agency's website.