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Health officer hoping for 40% vaccine rate in Flathead County

by BRET ANNE SERBIN
Daily Inter Lake | April 7, 2021 12:23 PM

Flathead City-County Health Officer Joe Russell made another appearance, albeit remotely, at the Kalispell City Council meeting Monday to give an update on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic in Flathead County.

Russell’s progress report showed signs of hope for the county just weeks after the anniversary of the onset of the health crisis on a local level.

Russell said the average number of new COVID-19 cases in Flathead County is down to fewer than 10 per day, a substantial decrease from an average of 47.6 daily cases in January of this year and 33.6 daily the following month.

Russell also reported more than 33,000 people have received COVID-19 vaccines from the Flathead City-County Health Department, and a few hundred sign up to receive immunizations every day.

In Russell’s estimation, Flathead County would be in good shape once about 40% of the local population is fully vaccinated.

It’s unlikely Flathead County will ever reach a vaccination rate of 70%, the figure cited by many epidemiologists as the minimum for a community to achieve herd immunity, according to Russell.

“To be perfectly frank with you, I don’t think we’ll ever get there,” said Russell before fielding numerous inquiries from members of the council.

Therefore, it looks like it will still be weeks before members of the public are invited back into the City Council chambers, but council member Sid Daoud made sure to include that issue for discussion at a future council work session.

WITH MAYOR Mark Johnson and Councilman Tim Kluesner both absent Monday night, the council’s action items for the meeting passed with little fanfare.

The most contentious issue was the adoption of 2018 International Fire and Energy Codes.

The city usually follows the state’s example whenever updating these codes; however, the 2018 International Fire Code has yet to be adopted by the state of Montana.

Daoud voted against adopting the new codes for that reason.

“I don’t think the implementation effects and the future economic impact for these new regulations here in Kalispell is very clear at this time,” Daoud said. “I also don’t want to be in a position where the city is more restrictive than the state.”

He therefore suggested the council wait to adopt the codes until the state puts the new regulations into place—if the codes are eventually accepted at that level—but the rest of the council voted to adopt the new codes.

“My take on it is they’re there for a reason,” council member Chad Graham said in defense of the updated codes. “They’re pretty important for saving lives.”

The council then unanimously approved re-subdivision of 176 Parkridge Drive, where Kalispell Public Schools Student Built Homes, LLC is currently building a house.

The program requested the council re-subdivide the space to allow the students to build two houses on the property.

The main concern with the proposal, according to Senior Planner P.J. Sorensen, is sewer service for the property. The current infrastructure isn’t long enough or deep enough to meet the needs of the proposed second home.

Nonetheless, Graham, who participated in the first ever class of the Student Built Homes program, expressed support for the efforts, and the proposal passed.

The council also gave unanimous support to a Growth Policy amendment for the area along Airport Road, with Graham voluntarily removed from the vote because of a personal conflict.

The rest of the council voted in favor of a resolution of intent to adopt changes to the Growth Policy near Airport Road.

There will be a public hearing on the amendments, detailed in the meeting agenda, on April 19, and a formal decision is expected at the council’s May 3 meeting.

Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at 758-4459 or bserbin@dailyinterlake.com.