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State and local health officials urge small holiday gatherings

by KIANNA GARDNER
Daily Inter Lake | November 23, 2020 10:05 AM

In agreement with Gov. Steve Bullock’s new directive implementing tighter COVID-19 restrictions, the Flathead City-County Health Department is advising against gatherings or events that include more than 25 people.

The new restrictions went into effect on Nov. 20.

Aside from placing a 25-person cap on get-togethers where social distancing cannot be maintained, the directive requires masks be worn in all counties regardless of case numbers, and bars, casinos and restaurants must operate at 50% capacity and close by 10 p.m.

Although the directive states events should top out at 25 people, it also strongly urges Montanans to limit their involvement in any in-person gatherings of 15 or more people. And as the country heads into the holiday season — a time when large dinners and festive celebrations are common — health department officials say the risks associated with some of these gatherings are too great and are often unavoidable.

“It is very difficult for event sponsors to maintain social distancing between attendees throughout an entire event,” Interim Health Officer Tamalee St James Robinson said in a prepared statement. “Although written social distancing and masking plans can be well-thought out, it’s been difficult to enforce those plans. We’ve seen multiple occurrences where the plan is good, but the execution of the plan is poor. For this reason, the Flathead City-County Health Department does not recommend hosting or attending large events and will no longer provide written approvals for events over 25.”

Robinson pointed to Flathead County’s recent spike in COVID-19 cases as a reason residents should opt for more intimate holiday gatherings this year. According to a press release, the county reported 1,011 new cases from Nov. 15 to Nov. 21.

State data shows Flathead County now has more than 2,300 active cases, second only to Yellowstone County, which has 3,646. Cumulatively, Flathead County has logged more than 6,000 positive cases since the COVID-19 was first detected in Montana in March.

Cases, related hospitalizations and deaths continue to surge in many counties in Montana. Health officials say every resident must do their part in helping curtail the spread.

“The influx of new cases in the past several weeks is alarming,” Robinson said. “We are all experiencing COVID-19 fatigue and many of us miss our loved ones, but gathering with non-household members may contribute to widespread transmission of COVID-19. This virus isn’t going away anytime soon, and we need to remain diligent in our efforts to mitigate the spread.”

More information on local cases can be found on the Flathead City-County Health Department’s website at https://flatheadhealth.org/novel-coronavirus-covid-19/

Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at 758-4407 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com