FORT BENTON - In a post online, Chouteau County Public Health called out a few locals for not socially distancing after making contact with positive COVID-19 cases. Staff said they made the post out of frustration, following months of dealing with a vocal minority who refuse to quarantine. 

In contact tracing, nurses usually reach out by phone, asking people to isolate at home. However, they tell Montana Right Now that those on the other end sometimes don’t respond too well, playing down those requests, calling them ‘fake news’ or not picking up altogether. 

“It’s getting worse now because our cases are rising, so we’re dealing with more people. That’s why things have come to a head around here,” said Nancy Lachapelle, who runs the coronavirus response in Choteau County.  

There are 79 active cases across the county as of the writing of this article, according to the Montana State Library Maps site, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 163. 

Similarly, when asked to wear masks and other forms of personal protective gear (PPE), public health officials say some claim medical excuses, often without explaining what they are. 

“It’s very odd, and it’s very suspicious and it’s something that people use as an excuse when they don’t want to wear a mask,” said Lachapelle. She says more legitimate reasons usually involve doctors notes around mental health issues.

“We’re not out there checking on people’s papers or anything like that,” said Lachapelle. “We’re just saying that people that are claiming exemptions should have a note from whomever their provider is, that can certify that  yes they do have these mental health issues. They do have anxiety, they do have claustrophobia.”  

Another public health nurse says she encourages using face shields instead for anyone not fond of masks. “It’s not the ideal [solution], but it’s an alternative for them that isn’t as constrictive,” said Angel Johnson.

While non-compliance around Coronavirus guidelines may go on, both Lachapelle and Johnson said most people and businesses in the county do a good job of taking COVID precautions for those around them. 

The department said community health remains their top priority, as they continue teaching the public about proper guidelines on limiting the virus’ spread.  

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