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Health board moves to investigate, prosecute non-compliant COVID-19 cases

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By Mira Brody EBS STAFF

BOZEMAN – The Gallatin City-County Board of Health voted on April 15 to adopt an emergency rule allowing the county health department to refer cases to local law enforcement should individuals ignore orders to isolate and self-quarantine due to a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.

If deemed necessary, law enforcement would have the power to investigate and charge non-compliant individuals with a misdemeanor as well as fines no less than $10 and no more than $200 relating to costs associated with their exposure to the community.

Health Director Matt Kelley said the rule is not an attempt to criminalize people who are sick but rather to provide county officials with the tools necessary to confront the spread of the virus in order to protect the health of the community.

“I want to assure everybody, in almost all cases people have been compliant,” said Kelley, adding that in a single case, which has been dealt with, an individual continued to go to work despite a positive COVID-19 test. “This is a tool that we hope we don’t need to use.”

To iterate the importance of this measure, Kelley read aloud an emotional account from a nurse working in a New York hospital who had 13 patients die in a single day, and that the emergency rule is to ensure her experience is one we avoid here in Gallatin County and Montana.

During the meeting, the board also voted to extend an Emergency Local Health Rule from April 17 to April 24 to keep in harmony with Gov. Steve Bullock’s state directive, and outlined what life might look like in coming weeks and months as Gallatin County gradually reopens. Kelley spoke of a potential “phased” reopening of restaurants and gyms that would employ social distancing guidelines, heightened sanitation and face coverings.

“We owe our business owners a debt of gratitude,” said Kelley. “We also owe them a sustained recovery.”

No efforts are in place yet to reopen, but Kelley made it clear that any changes would be backed by local hospitalization and health data along with state government directives, and that it would require everyone to adhere to a “new normal” way of life to ensure the longevity of the public’s health and economy.

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