Coronavirus Bears Down on Small Town (Doctor Argues Back that Pandemic Is a Hoax)

Richard Read, LA Times.  To view full article, click here.

WHITEFISH, Mont. —  When Steve Qunell won a seat on the City Council last year in this town of 8,000, he figured he’d be dealing with potholes and affordable housing.

Instead, he finds himself at the center of a raging debate over how to fight the coronavirus, which is surging in Montana like never before.

The state’s governor, Steve Bullock, a Democrat who is in the final stretch of a tight U.S. Senate race and has been reluctant to impose restrictions that could hurt his campaign, called on the hardest-hit counties to consider shutting bars and enforcing a statewide mask mandate.

There was little appetite for that in conservative Flathead County, where the health board has been dominated by an outspoken doctor who argues that the pandemic is a hoax....

This week the county health department advised residents to stay at home as much as possible and limit contacts outside their families to no more than six people a week, each for 15 minutes or less. The recommendations have been widely disregarded.

Tamalee St. James Robinson, the interim county health officer, said in an interview that she has the authority to make such measures mandatory but that more rules would be useless because officials were refusing to enforce those already in place.

The county prosecutor, Travis Ahner, said he was focused on crime and didn’t see a point in cracking down on businesses for mask violations.

For their part, the county commissioners released a statement this month supporting “the Constitutional rights of Montanans to make choices about personal protections for themselves.”

“Where does that leave me, just me out there?” Robinson asked.

As for the county health board, Bukacek prevailed in the latest battle over whether to limit social gatherings....

At the end of the night, the board members were left with a single proposal: no gatherings of more than 500 people.

They rejected it with a 5-to-3 vote....