As the Thursday meeting of the Missoula County Board of Health was underway, a small number of parents of out of town football players were protesting outside the Missoula City County Health Department building over not being allowed to attend this weekend’s high school football games.

While some were protesting, other parents were calling into the Board of Health’s meeting during their time for open comments.

Seems to me that 120 parents if you will, at a at a high school football game, socially distanced and wearing masks in your stadium, is both doable and preferable to having them clustered together in spaces that are not socially distancing such as bars.

Kim Beattie, a parent from Helena could not understand why out of town parents could not attend their sons’ games.

“Seems to me that 120 parents if you will, at a at a high school football game, socially distanced and wearing masks in your stadium, is both doable and preferable to having them clustered together in spaces that are not socially distancing such as bars,” said Beattie. “I would just respectfully request that you quickly review and revise that policy and allow us to attend.”

Another parent, Jamie Brice toad the board that their son’s game in Kalispell received last minute approval for visiting parents to attend, and as it turned out, that was very fortunate.

“The last minute approval came on Thursday afternoon,” said Brice. “I want it to be noted in the comments that there were three substantial injuries to our players on our visiting team. During that football game, two of them were season ending injuries, and if the parents actually hadn't been in the stadium, the coaches and the staff there would have been put in a really awkward situation for treatment for those injuries. Children would have been transported by maybe the ambulance to the hospital, maybe a bus driver, maybe some other parent, maybe a coach would have had to leave. These are these are things that need to be considered. And I want my comment to be noted.”

Before the open comment period, Missoula County Health Officer Ellen Leahy was cognizant of the protests and reiterated the county’s health order regarding crowds at football games.

“To go forward with spectators at any of these activities does then bring in our Phase 2 order that is based on the 50 pods or more,” said Leahy. “And again, that applies to everything pretty nicely until you get to the large football team. So we did make an accommodation for those large football games for a limited number of spectators and we are being asked to re examine that number.”

Incident Commander Cindy Farr also addressed the issue of spectators at high school football games.

“There was a protest outside the health department yesterday and it was primarily made up of high school sports parents, particularly football parents who are protesting the inability to have more fans and spectators at the games because Missoula county mandates that only two spectators per player are from the home team are allowed at football games,” said Farr.  “So the opposing side cannot have spectators if they are a team from outside of Missoula County.”

Farr acknowledged that policies differ from county to county during the COVID pandemic.

“It is a valid concern that things are not consistent from county to county,” she said. “That is the nature of being in what we call a decentralized state, and that being said, the Health Officers do actually communicate with each other and talk about who's going to put forth what restrictions, and then try to come together and as a unified voice as much as possible.”

Farr said peaceful protests are an absolute right, and that the health department will be looking into ways to remedy the situation as the season progresses.

“We live in a country where there's freedom of speech, and you have the absolute ability to peacefully protest,” she said. “We are listening to their concerns and meeting internally about it and trying to figure out if there's some way that we can find some common ground. Obviously, being so close to the weekend, it's obvious that we can't come up with an answer immediately, and we also have to work with our school systems as well. So I don't expect that we're going to have an immediate answer to this but we are trying to work on this solution.”

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