Lewis & Clark Public Health says Farmers Market should not be treated like grocery stores for COVID restrictions

Posted at 1:34 PM, Jul 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-30 20:32:42-04

Lewis & Clark Public Health (LCPH) has released a statement regarding how they believe the Helena Farmers’ Market differs from a traditional grocery or box store in regards to COVID restrictions.

According to LCPH, the Helena Farmers’ Market is an inherently social event with a condensed amount of time of 4 hours for shopping.

Comparatively, they say a grocery or box store is open 7 days a week and is not a social experience for many. LCPH adds the full week gives shoppers more time to spread out their visits to a store, rather than have everyone come in the same 4 hours.

Public health says limiting attendees to 250 people allows event organizers to manage crowds, and for LCPH to maintain the ability to quickly isolate a positive case of COVID-19 and quarantine close contacts.

This statement comes after LCPH and Helena Farmers' Market signed a consent decree that the market will not operate without a plan approved by the Health Department.

Helena Farmer's Market posted on Facebook they intended to submit a new plan, but believe it could take up to 10 days to approve.

LCPH said there are examples of other markets operating safely in the state, and are more than willing to continue to work with the Helena Farmers' Market and vendors on a way to safely reopen for the public.

The full statement from Lewis and Clark Public Health can be found below.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, thrives in environments with large groups of people, close together, for extended periods of time, such as the Helena Farmers’ Market.

The market is an inherently social event held for 4 hours each week on Saturdays where people congregate to shop, enjoy the summer weather and socialize, all at the same time. Conversely, grocery and box stores are used at the convenience of the patron, everyone goes according to their own schedule, 7 days a week, and not all at the same time nor at the same location.

Limiting large gatherings and events to a maximum of 250 people, including event staff, vendors, and patrons, represents a local strategy that allows event organizers to manage crowds and for public health to maintain our ability to quickly isolate a positive case and quarantine close contacts.

More than 250 people at a farmer’s market would put vendors at increased risk of exponential exposure.

The ultimate goal is to protect residents in Lewis and Clark County from serious disease and potential death.

LCPH has asked the Helena Farmer’s Market board and vendors to be creative and develop a plan that allows the market to operate safely. There are examples of this occurring at markets across the state and country. We are dedicated to providing the necessary guidance and technical assistance so the Helena’s Farmers’ market can open again.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect new information regarding the agreement reached by the two orginizations.