HELENA — Lewis & Clark Public Health (LCPH) has requested the involvement of the County Attorney's office regarding an outdoor concert that was held in the Helena Valley on Saturday.
County Health Officer Drenda Niemann says LCPH received numerous complaints before, during, and after the concert about county COVID restrictions being violated at the event. Concerns included not following the mask mandate, exceeding the attendance cap, and social distancing being disregarded.
”Expectations are laid out very clearly in our order,” said Niemann. “No more than 250 people are allowed at any given event, there must be controls in place to manage the crowd and understand how many people are coming in.”
Organizers of the free concert Saturday say it was held to celebrate freedom and unity, and to help with the general mental health of the community.
Organizer Jerry Steed said their plan was approved by the county, which included signs about COVID guidelines. However, Steed believes it would be against the Constitution to force people to leave for not following them.
“We have the right to peacefully assemble, and that’s what happened at the event,” said Steed. “I’m not going to limit freedom. I mean we followed the guidelines they set out, and that’s what the health department is for, is to set guidelines. Everyone in this town, and the world, is aware of the risks right now. I didn’t force anyone to come out and I’m not going to force them to leave.”
During the event, Steed says he was behind the stage most of the time making sure the concert ran smoothly, and couldn’t confidently say what the crowd size truly was.
Steed recognizes that LCPH is trying to help, but ultimately risk should be left up to the individual to decide.
However, LCPH says it was the organizer's responsibility to close down the event if they exceeded 250 people or if attendees weren’t following COVID mandates.
“Our local order is clear, it is the event organizers’ responsibility to manage the situation,” explained Niemann. “If they cannot manage the situation, it is their responsibility to then close it down.”
Neimann added that with Lewis & Clark County having the highest number of active COVID cases since the pandemic began at 173 current cases, large public events are putting the community in danger.
LCPH has advised every proposed large public event since the pandemic began not to hold the event during the pandemic and hold off.
Neiman bluntly told MTN News that LCPH is begging people to follow the COVID guidance of wearing a mask, social distancing, washing hands, and avoiding large gatherings.
“We want our businesses and our schools to stay open. We want our economy to get back on the right track again. We need to support our hospital. We need to help our hospital partners maintain and not get overwhelmed by an increase of people coming into the hospital that need care because of the COVID virus,” said Neimann.
It's now up to the County Attorney’s Office if any action will be taken.
Steed says he isn’t looking for a fight, but plans on challenging any action taken against the event.