The Jefferson County Health Board will consider updating its limit on events with more than 25 people at its March 2 meeting.
The Board had decided in October to put the cap at 50 people, which was decreased in November to 25 through a state-wide directive from former Gov. Steve Bullock — a limit the county has since adhered to.
In January, newly elected Gov. Greg Gianforte issued a new directive without a limit, stating that events should be managed in a way that adheres to the Centers for Disease Control’s social distancing guidelines, namely that people are able to remain at least six feet apart to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In Montana, however, local health boards can enact stricter health directives than the state, but cannot be more lenient.
Newly appointed Jefferson County Health Officer Sandy Sacry said she has received some applications for events in the spring - notably for a 4-H fundraiser and a gun show, with projected attendance from 150-200 people.
Sacry said she has not approved any events in the county since October as the Health Board’s goal was to limit overall county exposure by focusing mainly on allowing school events to proceed.
The state guidelines put into place last year by Bullock required event planners to submit health plans to local health boards outlining how the various COVID-19 protocols would be met in terms of cleaning, masking, social distancing and other measures.
Sacry said she wasn’t comfortable with making a decision about April so soon and without knowing how the county COVID-19 caseload would play out.
Board Chairperson Christina Binkowski said the item would have to be on the agenda before the Board could vote on it — hence the addition to the March 2 agenda.
One of the reasons the Board clamped down last year was because the number of COVID-19 cases began to rise rapidly last fall. In November alone, there were 317 new cases —roughly a third of the total amount, as of Feb. 5, since records on case counts began last March.
Over the past month, the number of new cases of COVID-19 has been decreasing, going from reports of up to 96 new cases a week last fall to an average of five to six a week in February, said Jefferson County Public Health Supervisor Pam Hanna.
The positivity rate has also dropped to 6.2% for the period of Jan. 21 - Feb. 3, down from a high of nearly 30% in November — a number that represents those who tested positive of all those tested in a two week period.
Hanna also pointed out that as the weather warms up, more events can be held outside.
The move comes at a time when local organizers are eyeing events for the upcoming summer season. Jefferson County Events Coordinator Bruce Binkowski has reported that some events have returned to the calendar, such as the Governor’s Cup and Montana Mule Days in July.
The Jefferson County Fair Board has agreed to move forward with planning for the fair this August, according to Chair Terry Minow. The Board meets this week to discuss committee assignments.