The Glacier County Health Board voted 5-0 to follow the Governor’s Executive Orders and Directive implementing the phased reopening of Montana, with the addendum that those subject to the jurisdiction of the Blackfeet Tribe follow the tribal guidelines and order that are in place. The unanimous vote came after approximately 20 minutes of discussion between the health board members, county officials and members of the public.
Members of the Glacier County Health Board include: Glacier County Commissioner John Overcast; Becky Atkinson, Northern Rockies Medical Center; Jeff Severn, Indian Health Service/Blackfeet Community Hospital; Mike Schultz, City of Cut Bank; and Nancy Hjartarson, RN, Glacier County resident. All members of the Health Board are appointed by the County Commissioners.
Schultz commended the Blackfeet Tribe, Browning and Cut Bank School Boards and the City of Cut Bank for “making a decision that fits them.” He noted those governmental boards looked at what they are able to do when it comes to complying with the Governor’s reopening plan. The Browning and Cut Bank School Boards both decided they could not meet the strict requirements to re-open their schools and voted on April 14 and April 29, respectively, to keep their schools closed for the remainder of the school year. The Governor’s plan allowed for the reopening May 7 under specific conditions.
Chairwoman Nancy Hjartarson, RN, pointed out there are strict measures that must be met if businesses choose to open and noted what the Health Department is doing to help businesses comply.
Board members Becky Atkinson of Northern Rockies Medical Center and Schultz encouraged the wearing of face masks and the Health Department will provide disposable face masks for community members and businesses that need them.
Glacier County Health Department Health Nurse Carol McDivitt, BSN, RN, said the Health Department will also be providing businesses within their jurisdiction informational packets, signage and checklists to help them comply with the phased opening.
Severn shared they have done 400 COVID-19 tests at Blackfeet Community Hospital and have not had any positive test results.
Schultz said the Glacier County Health Department has the authority to follow up on complaints against businesses not following the guidelines, and following investigation of the complaints, if appropriate, the findings will be turned over to the County Attorney.
George Heavy Runner suggested some type of cooperative agreement between the Blackfeet Tribe and the City of Cut Bank to “alleviate fears” and “misinformation on Facebook” and was pleased to hear the Health Board’s suggestion to include language informing businesses if they are under jurisdiction of the Blackfeet Tribe to follow their guidelines.
Following the meeting, the Glacier County Commissioners met briefly and determined they did not need to take any action. “The Health Board has the ultimate decision” when it comes to the health and well being of the public, stated Vice Chairman Tom McKay.
Chairman Michael DesRosier went on record saying he had hoped the County would follow the guidelines put out by the Blackfeet Tribe for the Blackfeet Reservation.
Commissioner John Overcast addressed DesRosier’s concern about the “differences” of the guidelines being followed by businesses on and off the reservation. “I think it will be confusing,” said DesRosier.
Overcast responded, “I realize there may be some confusion, especially when the bars and casinos open, but most businesses in Browning are open now.”
Under the latest Tribal Council action, bars and casinos and other non-essential businesses will remain closed until May 31.
As for the status of the Glacier County Courthouse and other county facilities, Commissioner McKay said “we’re leaving that decision up to our employees” on when to re-open their office to the public. Commissioner DesRosier suggested they revisit the issue with the employees at their May 14 meeting.