Mike Pence GOP Rally

Vice President Mike Pence delivers a speech at a Montana GOP rally Monday at the Big Yellow Barn in Belgrade.

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Organizers of Vice President Mike Pence’s campaign rally in Belgrade on Monday didn’t reply to the Gallatin County Health Officer’s request to plan ways to use coronavirus-related protocols, the health officer said Tuesday.

Matt Kelley emailed organizers Friday but said he didn’t receive a response. When asked if organizers communicated with Kelley before the event, Montana Republican Party spokesperson Brooke Stroyke deferred to President Donald Trump’s campaign. Trump spokesperson Ken Farnaso deferred to the Montana Republican Party.

Kelley said his goal in reaching out to organizers was to inform them of local health rules and brainstorm ways to limit the risk of spreading the virus.

“You just would hope we could work together to find ways to have events in a safe manner,” Kelley said. “We’ll continue to do that and continue to work with groups that want to do that.”

Seven hundred people attended the rally, said Julia Doyle, a spokesperson for Sen. Steve Daines. Few wore masks and few sat or stood 6 feet away from others. Pence, who is head of the White House’s coronavirus task force, didn’t wear a mask. Neither did Daines and other Republican candidates.

Attendees needed tickets to enter the event to limit crowd size and volunteers checked their temperature before they were allowed to park on Springhill Road.

Kelley, however, had no role in the planning of the outdoor event at the Big Yellow Barn. He mentioned examples of how he has worked with organizers of large events since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March.

“Our goal isn’t to say no to everyone,” Kelley said. “Our goal is to find ways to have events that are safe.”

The county health department’s priority is protecting people in senior living facilities and figuring out ways for schools to have as much in-person class as possible, Kelley said. A large event, like the one that took place Monday, could put people at risk.

Though Kelley didn’t attend, he saw photos and reports of what happened at the rally and called it concerning.

“It’s concerning anytime we have hundreds of people gathered without social distancing, without masks,” Kelley said. “That’s a risk.”

In his email to organizers on Friday, he mentioned a local health rule says there should be no events with more than 50 people unless social distancing can be maintained and local health officials should be consulted about large gatherings.

Kelley also said if he communicated with organizers perhaps he could have helped them form strategies like how to best structure people entering and exiting the event in a safer manner.

Gallatin County Undersheriff Dan Springer said 40 to 45 law enforcement officers from several agencies, including the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office and Bozeman and Belgrade police departments, aided security. He did not have an estimate on how much it cost the agencies to help with the rally, but he called it a cost of being in an area desirable for politicians to campaign.

The Montana Democratic party criticized the event.

“Instead of doing their jobs fighting for Montanans in Congress, Steve Daines and Greg Gianforte skipped work to join Vice President Mike Pence for a large rally that put Montanans’ health and safety at risk,” party spokesperson Christina Wilkes said in a statement.

On Monday night, Daines tweeted a photo of him with Pence aboard Air Force Two and wrote “See you soon, @realDonaldTrump!!” In response to a tweet wondering if it meant he would see President Donald Trump in Washington D.C. or at a campaign rally in Montana, Daines wrote “Stay tuned.”

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Paul Schwedelson can be reached at pschwedelson@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2670. Follow him on Twitter @pschweds.

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