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Gallatin County health officials are applauded for stern warnings sent to downtown bars found to be violating regulations imposed to thwart the spread of coronavirus. County officials issued the written warnings after they found the bars weren’t observing social distancing or sitting at tables as required by the county as a condition of reopening the bars.

And the letters had the desired effect. Bar owners responded with plans to enforce county mandates and follow-up visits by county officials noted improvements in patrons’ behavior. Those mandates require establishments to limit patron numbers to 75% capacity and for customers to be seated at a table and not standing and mingling in violation of social distancing guidelines. If further violations are observed, officials are urged to get even more aggressive and impose civil or criminal penalties on those who persist in violating the health guidelines.

To be fair to the business establishments, this has become more a matter of personal responsibility. Forcing customers to change behavior against their will can be difficult. Individuals need to familiarize themselves with county health guidelines and observe them.

Confirmed COVID-19 infections have jumped up to their highest levels yet since local government officials allowed the reopening of bars and restaurants. The increases have been attributed to imprudent socializing at bars, large private parties, weddings, etc.

The resurgence of the virus is particularly unfortunate considering what transpired previously. Local businesses and individuals made tremendous sacrifices through many weeks of lockdown ordered by Gov. Steve Bullock. The shutdown of businesses resulted in many job losses. As individuals, we suffered through isolation and inactivity that took an emotional toll and strained family relationships.

And the lockdown was effective. It reduced transmission of the disease to near zero. Montana achieved the status of the least infected state in the nation on a per capita basis.

But all that may have been for naught.

Continued increases in infection rates can only be tolerated for so long. If hospitalizations from the disease increase to the point where they strain our health care system’s capacity to handle them, the state could be forced to reimpose the lockdown.

Let’s not waste what we have accomplished so far. Learn the guidelines at www.healthygallatin.org/coronavirus-covid-19/public-health-rules/ and observe them faithfully.

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Editorial Board

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

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