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Some professionals pursue a career in public health thinking they will prevent food poisoning by inspecting restaurants. And ordinarily that’s part of the job. But in the age of COVID-19, public health officers across the nation found out their jobs can become a lightning rod for political discontent. And that was enough to end some of those careers.

But not Matt Kelley’s.

Despite the way COVID-19 nonsensically became a political issue and stirred vehement protests, Kelley hung tough as Gallatin City-County public health officer and enforced some unpopular mitigation mandates — even in the face of harassment inflicted on himself and his family.

Now, after shepherding Gallatin County through the worst of the pandemic, Kelley is moving on with his career. He has been chosen to head up the nonprofit Montana Public Health Institute. He will remain in office until June and assist in the selection of his replacement. Let’s hope they find someone of similar resolve.

When the pandemic invaded Gallatin County in early 2020, Kelley, at the behest of the Gallatin City-County Health Board, followed the counsel of the experts in the field of epidemiology and closed down certain businesses, banned large public gatherings and mandated social distancing and wearing masks in public spaces.

Those actions set off a firestorm of resistance from misguided individuals who equated the public health measures with some kind of tyranny. Demonstrators camped outside Kelley’s home for two weeks in protest. Along the way, Kelley and other county officials had to go to court to enforce measures imposed on bars and restaurants. And they prevailed.

Despite all the hullaballoo, Gallatin County has fared fairly well through the pandemic. Tragically, 57 county residents have lost their lives to the virus — but it could have been much worse, as evidenced by much higher infection and death rates in other parts of the country.

Now, after a year of dealing with the hardships and illness inflicted by COVID-19, vaccinations are being administered to growing numbers throughout the county and state and the end of the pandemic is within sight.

Kelley is commended for the job he did imposing and enforcing the mitigation measures that have certainly saved lives. And he is wished the best of luck in the next phase of his career in public health.


Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Michael Wright, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Charles Rinker, community member
  • Will Swearingen, community member
  • Angie Wasia, community member

To send feedback on editorials, either leave a comment on the page below or write to citydesk@dailychronicle.com.

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Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Michael Wright, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Will Swearingen, community member
  • Angie Wasia, community member

To send feedback on editorials, write to citydesk@dailychronicle.com.