Several recent cases of COVID-19 were epidemiologically linked to individuals who attended the Let Freedom Ring concert Oct. 3 in the Helena Valley, the county health department announced Thursday.
"Lewis and Clark Public Health warns anyone who attended the Let Freedom Ring concert on October 3rd to follow public health guidelines and closely monitor themselves for symptoms of COVID-19," a press release from the department says.
Health department officials did not say how many positive cases were linked to the concert.
"Our case investigation is ongoing, but preliminarily we have identified a few individuals who have (tested) positive that reported that they had attended the concert. Each case has close contacts who we are also monitoring for symptoms during the quarantine period," county Health Officer Drenda Niemann said in an email to the Independent Record. "We will be analyzing case investigation data about 14 days post event which is the incubation period for the virus. Information at this time is based on analysis from last week's cases."
The press release says anyone who attended the concert or is a direct contact of someone who attended the event should:
• Monitor themselves for symptoms of COVID-19, which could include fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headaches, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.
• Stay home and isolate themselves from others if they are sick with any symptoms.
• Contact their medical provider immediately if they show symptoms of COVID-19 to determine next steps, including testing.
The health department is also encouraging anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 after attending the concert to disclose their attendance during the case investigation process. The press release says the information collected during an investigation is confidential and used to better understand and track the origin of cases in the community.
Niemann said the health department felt obligated to inform the public that they may have been exposed to COVID-19 and to watch for symptoms, as many people attended the event and contract tracing will be impossible for her team.
“Gatherings of this nature, and at this time, can quickly turn into super-spreader events,” Niemann said in the press release. “Right now, the focus isn’t on whether the event was the right or wrong thing to do, we simply need to quickly identify cases and their close contacts if we are to have a chance at containing disease and preventing an outbreak.”
The concert featured three bands, vendors, a fireworks show, and an appearance by U.S. Rep. and Republican governor candidate Greg Gianforte.
Event organizers worked with Lewis and Clark Public Health prior to the event, and county health officials signed off on their plan to protect attendees from the virus. After the event, Niemann said the safety precautions were not followed and that she was working with the county attorney's office to hold the organizers accountable.
The Lewis and Clark County Sheriff's Office received two complaints from people who said they were concerned about the size of the venue and alleged that attendees were not following public health requirements, according to a report filed with the county attorney's office.
A deputy who responded to the complaints was unable to estimate how many people were at the event because of the size of the venue, which was described in the report as a large empty field well off of North Montana Avenue. However, the officer estimated "there were potentially 150 to 200 people" centered around the stage area around 11 p.m., the report says.
In a prior interview with the Independent Record, Jerry Steed, who is one of the organizers of the event, defended the safety parameters in place and said he believed the event was protected under the Constitution.
“We did everything that the health department asked us to do,” he said. “We posted the signs, followed the plan we presented, we put up a road closed sign when we thought we were there but how do you with so many people coming and leaving? Everyone knows the risks, but I think Montanans are smart enough to make their own decisions."