The Gallatin City-County Board of Health meeting on Tuesday, July 14 was supposed to do two things: Consider making masks a requirement in certain places and extend the time in which there was a rule for people to self-isolate.
One: a 90-day extension for the self-isolation rule during the COVID-19 pandemic that’s been going on since the start.
The second and, according to at least 84 people sitting in socially-distanced chairs in the auditorium of The Commons on Tuesday morning: wearing face masks like this one in public indoor spaces.
“It makes me sad,” says Matt Kelley, health officer for the Gallatin City-County Health Department. “We should be able to listen and talk to one another.”
Kelley, alongside the other board members, says the goal is to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the easiest way.
“Masks are inexpensive,” Kelley says. “They are safe and they are something that we wanted to give the community a chance to have a discussion today and have the board make a decision. Unfortunately, we were not able to get there because of the disruption at the meeting. We also have tourism season that’s in high form and in four to six students, we are going to have MSU students coming back. We are going to be trying to send our kids back to school.”
The consideration: require face coverings in specific indoor settings with lots of foot traffic: bars, restaurants, government buildings, schools and retail businesses.
Consequences for violating that would be handled in civil court, according to law enforcement.
The topic filled the auditorium with posters and angry voices, many heard shouting over others, chanting the Pledge of Allegiance and yelling questions.
“It’s kind of the same principle as when you cover your sneeze or your cough and you do that out of simple courtesy for your fellow human beings,” Kelley says.
A thought that, if that means required masks, longtime Montanans like Scott Palmer disagree with.
“We have a right,” Palmer says. “I’m 66 years old, made in Montana, born in raised in Montana and I’ve never seen anything like I’ve seen today. The hate, the distrust between the people and the local government is out of control.”
The postponement gives the community another 48 hours to consider before the board returns to the topic virtually on Friday.
But Kelley recognizes the frustration.
“[Masks] are not a silver bullet,” Kelley says. “They are not going to end the pandemic but they can be an important factor and they may help us disrupt transmission.”
And hopes Friday will go differently.
“It would just be nice if we could have people listen as well as communicate their own ideas,” Kelley says.
The meeting will take place at 7 am Friday.
The Gallatin City-County Health Department Board of Health released the following press release:
The agenda for Friday’s meeting will remain the same as what was noticed for the July 14 meeting.
The first measure the Board will consider is a new emergency health rule that would require use of face coverings by most people within most indoor public settings, including retail businesses, bars and restaurants, government buildings and schools, and most other public indoor settings.
The second measure on the Board’s agenda is an extension of the Board’s emergency rule requiring people who have tested positive for COVID-19 to remain in isolation until they are no longer contagious.
The rules that the Board will consider on Friday can be found at this link under the “Related Docs” tab. Public comments can be provided at https://readygallatin.formstack.com/forms/boh. The Board will accept written comments until 4 PM on Thursday, July 16.
To participate virtually in Friday’s meeting, please register in advance at this link. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting. Registration will remain open the day-of and throughout the meeting.
The meeting will also be audio live streamed here.
The Gallatin City-County Health Department Call Center is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for questions about COVID-19. Reach the Call Center by phone at 406-548-0123 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.