Maintain the mask

Local Board of Health rules continue

The face covering rule in Gallatin County will be extended until April 20, as will the isolation and quarantine rule and rule for visitation at nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, and senior and assisted living facilities, per a recent Gallatin City-County Board of Health meeting.

The board opted to allow the Phase 2 reopening rule for business restrictions to expire on Feb. 4, wanting to collect more data before they decide a course of action. That rule, which establishes that bars, casinos, restaurants, breweries and distilleries close at 10 p.m. remains in effect, including limiting group size to 25 or less. The board will meet on Feb. 4 to discuss potentially amending the rule to allow businesses to stay open until 12 a.m. The curfew has been a point of contention between some area businesses and the county.

The Gallatin County case versus Rocking R Bar for refusing to comply with the 10 p.m. closure health rule is set to continue, despite Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen ordering a dismissal of the case, stating in a press release that the “ten o’clock closure rule defies common sense” before he called it government overreach. The board voted 7-1 to have Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert, who represents the board of health and Kelley in the case, to continue and not dismiss it. Commissioner Joe Skinner was the outlier. For dismissal to occur, all parties would need to agree. Kelley also wanted the case to go on.

Lambert addressed the issue via a short statement a few days before the board of health meeting:

"The State of Montana is not a party to the R Bar case. The Attorney General may lack authority to ‘order and direct’ a county attorney to dismiss a case where a local government entity, and not the State of Montana, is the plaintiff.”

After Governor Greg Gianforte spent his first press conference in office announcing his plan to rescind the statewide mask mandate, he also reduced state mandated restrictions on small businesses, but Gallatin City-County Health Officer Matt Kelley reminded people of the local control established with boards of health.

“It is important to remember that in Montana, local boards of health have a duty under state law to take actions to protect the public health in their community,” he said. “In Gallatin County, the board of health has passed an emergency rule related to operation and capacity limits for certain businesses, including bars, restaurants, and gyms. The bottom line is that the board's actions remain in effect in Gallatin County.”

Chair Becky Franks pointed-out that the tourist/university-driven community has done well managing the pandemic “to the best of our ability.”

“It’s thanks to the hard conversations and hard work of Matt Kelley [and his team]. We would not be where we are in our community without you all,” she said.

The board has continually fielded angry comments from frustrated community members. Kelley said he has developed a pretty thick skin the last 10 months.

“What I ask is that we don’t allow it to sidetrack us,” he said and noted that the board did a good job of staying focused. For the people who spoke at the meeting who were hoping for a different outcome… they have his number, and he is interested in finding a middle ground.

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