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Lewis & Clark County to step up enforcement of stay-home order

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Healthcare workers file Covid-19 tests

Health care workers file COVID-19 tests at a drive-up testing facility at St. Peter's Health on March 24, 2020, in Helena, Mont.

Officials in Lewis and Clark County plan to step up the enforcement of Gov. Steve Bullock's stay-at-home order with a progressive approach that includes fines of $500 per day for repeat offenses. 

County health officials said they have been receiving complaints about nonessential businesses staying open despite Bullock's order to close.

"We've been getting calls from the community about businesses that are open and that don’t appear to be essential," said Drenda Niemann, county health officer and director of Lewis and Clark Public Health. "We've been working with law enforcement and the county attorney's office regarding enforcement of the governor's order, and we all think it's important for the community to understand that we take this order seriously."

When the health department receives a complaint, staff will begin calling the individual or business to provide education about the requirements of the governor's order. 

If the health department receives additional complaints, the health officer will issue a written warning that will be delivered by a law enforcement officer. 

If these efforts aren’t successful, law enforcement will issue citations, and an individual or business may be fined up to $500 for each day of noncompliance.

"We have no desire to be punitive, but we do have a legal obligation as well as a personal mission to protect our citizens by following the social distancing directive of the governor," Niemann said. "Social distancing is the best tool we have at this point to try to stop COVID-19."

Enforcement will be complaint-driven, as heads of local law enforcement agencies have said they want to avoid a heavy-handed approach and will not be stopping individuals on the street.

"If everyone maintains a level head, us included, we will get through this," Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton said Friday. "We're going to be patient, and we ask the public to do the same."

To report a violation, call Lewis and Clark Public Health at 457-8900.

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Local Government Reporter

Nolan Lister is a reporter at the Helena Independent Record with an emphasis on local government and crime.

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