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Hospitals, Health Department need our help

| October 18, 2020 12:00 AM

As the number of COVID-19 cases in Montana keeps climbing with no clear path yet to quelling the pandemic, the state and many hot-spot counties — Flathead County included — find themselves in what top medical officials are now calling “a public health crisis.”

The rising number of positive cases prompted Gov. Steve Bullock on Thursday to send out an urgent call for medical workers to join the fight as hospitals fill up across our Big Sky State.

There’s a desperate need for more nurses, paramedics, contact tracers and others to join or rejoin the state’s health-care workforce.

Bullock was joined in the conference call to the press by Benefis Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bridget Brennan of Great Falls, who stressed the upward trajectory of positive COVID cases “is threatening to overwhelm the health-care resources here in the state.”

With that in mind, we encourage any medical professionals available in Flathead County to respond to this call to action. It’s quickly becoming an all-hands-on-deck situation. On Friday there were 28 people hospitalized with COVID in this county. Kalispell Regional has brought in traveling medical workers to ease the burden on staff.

Kalispell Regional Healthcare CEO Craig Lambrecht told the local Board of Health this week that his biggest worry right now is keeping the area hospitals staffed.

“We’re busy, it’s crazy and the stress on our staff is real,” Lambrecht said.

We also need to note that a consortium of local physicians made a public plea last week to follow the guidelines and mask requirement in order to stop the surge.

However, a majority of the Board of Health at its Thursday meeting chose to toss out a proposal that would have tightened restrictions for crowd sizes and reduced capacity at restaurants, bars and churches. The fact that five board members voted against the pleas of a hospital CEO and their own public health officer seems reckless at best.

We’re also dismayed the Flathead County commissioners earlier this month chose to thumb their noses at the governor’s mask mandate, saying they “support the Constitutional rights of Montanans to make choices about personal protection for themselves and their families.”

The Flathead City-County Health Department has a monumental task right now to contact trace 80 to 100 COVID cases daily, and they’re doing an admirable job, but it’s quickly becoming a losing proposition if local residents aren’t doing all they can to limit the virus spread.

Interim Health Officer Tamalee St. James Robinson told the Health Board her department is “drowning in COVID cases right now and is in “an impossible position.”

The lack of leadership from our Board of Health and county commissioners is not only disappointing; it’s putting people’s lives at risk.

The public health officer has the ultimate authority to impose further restrictions and shut down huge events if COVID cases spiral off the charts. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Right now St. James Robinson and her staff could use some support from the powers that be.