Coronovirus falls on a small Montana town


When Steve Cunnel won a city council seat in this city of 8,000 last year, he felt he would deal with pits and affordable housing.

Instead, he finds himself at the center of a furious debate over fighting coronoviruses, growing up in Montana like never before.

The state’s governor, Steve Bullock, a Democrat who is in the final stages of a tight US Senate race and reluctant to enforce sanctions that could hurt his campaign, is the toughest to consider closed bars. Counties were called on and a statewide mask was applied. Government Order.

There was little appetite for this in conservative Flathead County, where the Board of Health has been dominated by a vocal physician who argues that the epidemic is a hoax.

This left the Whitefish City Council.

“We are the last line of defense,” said 49-year-old Quneel, a high school social studies teacher. During an online public meeting this week told his fellow council members. “Are we going to lead? Or are we just in the county?” Unbelievers are going to follow? ”

Places such as whitefish can once see the epidemic as a problem of a far larger city. By mid-September, 140 people had died in heavily populated Montana.

But the figure has doubled in the last five weeks as a new wave of infection is underway in the country. More than 85,000 cases were reported across the country on Friday, the highest number of epidemics in a single day.

The worst outbreaks are in the rural Midwest and the Rocky Mountains. Montana had the third-highest infection rate in the country, with 4,693 new cases in the past week, surpassing only Dakota.

The increase in Montana has overwhelmed efforts to conduct contact tracing and stressful health systems across the state.

And as events in the Whitefish show, efforts to curb exponential growth are being thrust against a culture that prides itself on rugged freedom and freedom from government regulations.

In the epidemic, whitefish, a gateway to ski areas and Glacier National Park, moved more decisively than many other communities to contain the virus.

Whitefish Mountain Resort rotates above Whitefish, Mont., The gateway to Glacier National Park.

Whitefish Mountain Resort rotates above Whitefish, Mont., The gateway to Glacier National Park.

(Richard Reid / Los Angeles Times)

Last spring, the city council ordered hotels and short-term rental properties to take in only the necessary workforce – a requirement that remained in place until the end of May.

Whitefish was also one of the first cities in Montana to have people wear masks – though the governor soon issued a statewide order.

Nevertheless, there was strong local opposition to such restrictions from the beginning.

Dr. who led the resistance. There was Annie Buchsek, a 62-year-old trainee known for her far-reaching views and opposition to vaccination.

Flathhead County commissioners appointed her to the county health board in December last year after sacking two other doctors with public health experience – the commissioners said were to increase diversity of views.

Bukek became a hero of anti-lockdown activists across the country last spring when he gave a speech to a local church congregation, alleging that the federal government was exaggerating the coronovirus death toll.

Members of the Liberty Fellowship said, “People are being terrorized by those who fear nurtured freedom.”

She wore a lab coat and stethoscope for her presentation, which has been viewed more than 860,000 times on YouTube.

The congregation is led by Chuck Baldwin, described by the Montana Human Rights Network as “an informal reverend of the militia movement.” He has defied state orders by continuing in-person services.

Dr.  Annie Buchsek, center, in black, joins Kaispel protesting the requirements of masks in schools with protesters.

Dr. Annie Busek, center, in black, joins protesters at Kalispell in Moscow, opposing mask requirements in schools.

Dr.  Annie Buchsec

Dr. Annie Busek protested the ban on the slow proliferation of coronoviruses, saying the number of deaths is exaggerated.

Bukek and a small group of colleagues sought to eliminate mask requirements and other state restrictions, which are equivalent to martial law, a few times each week outside schools and government buildings.

His message affected some people last summer as cases and deaths remained low, with even more tourists arriving than whitefish and national parks.

Eventually though it became clear that Flathhead County, with a population of 100,000, would not survive the kind of suffering that many other parts of the country experienced.

The first major outbreak in whitefish occurred in a nursing home in August, infecting 43 out of 52 patients – and eventually 13 of them died.

The county’s largest hospital, Kalispell Regional Medical Center, soon began seeing more admissions in its coronavirus ward.

Erica Lengcher, a 46-year-old critical-care nurse who works nights in the ward, can withstand the stress of seeing patients. He was part of the job.

There was harsh apathy to deal with that opponents of the basic security measures seemed to be victims of the epidemic.

“I felt a deep, deep sadness that when I saw patients suffering and dying, there was a feeling that our community had moved on and didn’t really care,” she said.

“I know that there is a historical tension between public health and personal freedom,” she said. “But a good part of our community is following the mask mandate of the state, and I still can’t turn my head around how it has become so political and divisive.”

The number of patients in the coronavirus ward has increased to around 29 in recent times, but managers are recruiting more nurses as conditions worsen.

Recent outbreaks in Flathead County – where the total number of infected people has more than doubled in the past three weeks to more than 2,800 – have been attended by large gatherings at four churches, four weddings, three political events and two business events.

This week the county health department has advised residents to stay home as long as possible and limit contact outside their families to no more than six people a week, each for 15 minutes or less. The recommendations have been widely disregarded.

Interim County Health Officer, Tamale St. James Robinson, said in an interview that he had the authority to make such measures mandatory but would be more reckless as officials were already refusing to implement those.

The county prosecutor, Travis Aahner, said he was focused on crime and did not have a point in tightening up on businesses for infringement of the mask.

Tamale St. James Robinson, an interim public health officer from Flathead County, refused to impose a coronavirus ban.

Tamale St. James Robinson, an interim public health officer from Flathead County, refused to impose a coronovirus ban.

(Richard Reid / Los Angeles Times)

For their part, the county commissioners released a statement this month, “endorsing the constitutional rights of Montanans to conduct elections regarding personal elections for themselves.”

“Where does that leave me, just me out there?” Robinson asked.

As the county health board, the booksake prevailed in the latest battle over whether to limit social ceremonies.

“Statistically, for practical purposes, COVID in Montana has 100% survival,” she said during an online public meeting of the board last week.

“No it’s not!” A local infectious disease specialist, Dr. Shouted Jeffrey Tjaden, who warned that things were likely to go awry without immediate action.

A minute later, he interrupts her again to say that he was so fed up with her presentation that he was logging off.

“I’m not saying that people who died didn’t matter,” he said after he left.

At the end of the night, the board members were left with the same proposal: no gathering of more than 500 people.

He rejected it with a 5-to-3 vote.

This prompted criticism from the governor, who said he was disappointed that the board ignored experts and that “some are trying to politicize the virus” to protect health and safety.

“The message was presented loudly and clearly that if the spread of the virus in the flathead area is not controlled, schools will have to be closed, parents will be out of the workforce, businesses will be hurt and hospital beds “Bullock told reporters.

This week, he announced that state investigators had conducted spot checks at more than a dozen businesses in Flathhead County and that the authorities temporarily shut down five establishments deemed “arrogant violators” to mask requirements and standards of social disturbances Will ask you to stop.

The greatest danger may be in winter, as the virus is most easily spread when people are indoors.

In Whitefish, the temperature fell on Friday as the first major snowfall of the season.

“It’s time for action, and it has unfortunately fallen for us,” Cunele told his colleagues at this week’s city council meeting.

The City Manager wrote a letter to the Board of Health suggesting to encourage it. A councilor said that another letter to businesses could persuade them to cooperate.

Qunell did not see the point.

“The county is not going to do anything no matter what letter we write,” he said.

He wanted the council to vote by 10 pm – before they were generally crowded and rowdy and limited the restaurant to 25% capacity.

But the only thing decided was that the council considered enforcing the boundaries during Halloween weekend to meet again on Monday, when whitefish traditionally place a popular city bar crawl.

In an interview, Cunele said that whitefish would have to find a balance between protecting citizens and the economy that has alienated national, state and county leaders.

“There has been a failure of leadership from the highest level,” he said. “The responsibility is going downhill, and it has ended in our hiatus.”

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