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County health officials seek cooperation from hotels

| May 5, 2020 8:47 AM

During times rife with vulnerability people sometimes call law enforcement simply because they’ve seen a vehicle with out-of-state plates whose occupants the caller believes might be lingering instead of moving on.

Vehicles displaying Washington plates attracted especially keen attention after the state experienced an early cluster of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Gov. Steve Bullock said March 30 that “travel is the most common known source of COVID-19 infections in Montana.” And his directive of that date ordered that anyone traveling to Montana from another state or country for a non-work-related purpose “must immediately self-quarantine for 14 days.”

That order remains in effect.

Dr. Brad Black, Lincoln County’s health officer, hopes to establish clear communication between the county’s health department and its motels, RV parks and other businesses that lodge overnight guests.

He said the county wants to know where travelers are coming from and whether their travel history has included any COVID-19 hotspots.

Black said the county also wants staff at motels and other regional accommodations to tell out-of-state guests at check-in about the 14-day self-quarantine. He does not expect the businesses to turn visitors away or to try to enforce the quarantine, he said.

“We can’t expect them to say ‘no,’” Black said. “We’re being realistic about this.”

One desired outcome of steady communication between the health department and motels and other lodging businesses will be regular testing of staff to see whether they have COVID-19, he said.

“It’s all intended to help us know what might be coming into the community,” Black said. “It’s just another little safeguard.”

Black has said that ongoing, robust COVID-19 testing of all persons, whether ill or healthy, “is essential for containing the rapid spread of the virus.”

Paul Bunn owns the Venture Inn and its restaurant and the nearby Country Inn.

He said most of the out-of-state visitors his inns are likely to serve are on business travel. People traveling for work are exempt from the 14-day self-quarantine.

But Bunn said guests are reminded at check-in of Bullock’s guidelines.

And he said he is in regular contact with the Lincoln County Health Department.

“I’ve called them probably three or four times a week,” Bunn said.

He said his businesses require employees to declare at the beginning of their shift if they are experiencing any medical symptoms.

“If there’s any problem, we send them home,” Bunn said.

Meanwhile, Bullock’s guidelines allowed restaurants, bars and casinos to reopen this week, beginning May 4.

Black said regional businesses in this sector were required to submit plans of operation that demonstrate compliance with state and local guidelines designed to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The Venture Inn restaurant’s procedures will include, among others:

• The salad bar will not be available to customers.

• Condiments like ketchup will be available only in single-use packaging.

• Dining room capacity will be reduced by 50 percent. No more than six people at any table.

• Reservations will be required on special occasions.

Bunn said the restaurant will continue to offer takeout and curbside service and room service to motel guests.

Meanwhile, through April 25 in Lincoln County, 691 people have been tested for COVID-19. Seven have tested positive.