The Richland County Commissioners voted on Monday, June 29, to cancel the county Fair out of concerns about COVID-19. The Richland County Fair and Rodeo was scheduled to be held from August 5–8, 2020.
In a 2–1 vote, the county commissioners followed the recommendation of the Richland County Fair Board, which recommended on Monday afternoon at the meeting to cancel this year’s scheduled Fair.
County commissioners Shane Gorder of District 2 and Loren Young of District 1 voted to cancel the Fair. County Commissioner Duane Mitchell of District 3 voted to continue with the Fair. The decision was based on a majority; and the motion to cancel the Fair, made by Gorder, prevailed.
At the beginning of the commissioners’ meeting, Chris Hillesland, a County Fair Board member, explained why the board made a unanimous recommendation not to hold the Fair this year.
“The Fair Board’s decision wasn’t based on what’s most popular and whether the people of Richland County want to have a Fair or not,” Hillesland said, making numerous references to concerns about the COVID-19 virus and the potential for a major outbreak in the county if the Fair were held.
“It was based on doing what’s right,” he said.
“We thought we could make this work,” Hillesland added, alluding to the fact that the Fair Board held off on making a final decision until the end of June.
A couple of dozen citizens attended the meeting to voice their concerns about both sides of the issue. Their opinions centered on COVID-19 and the possibility that holding the Fair might cause a major spread of the coronavirus. Many people, including the two county commissioners who voted to cancel the Fair, pointed out that a recent surge in reported positive COVID-19 cases raised their concerns at the last minute.
One of those concerned citizens identified herself as a registered nurse. Wearing a protective mask, she spoke at length about the risks everyone in Richland County faced — not just people in attendance if the Fair were held — by being exposed during and after a large public event.
“This is America,” said another woman, who voiced her strong opinion that the Fair should continue. “You have the choice to go to the Fair or not go to the Fair. I don’t want to live a life where we should be in fear of going outside. I don’t wanna live in fear.
“I don’t want the ‘new normal,’” she said. “Life has to go on.”
Prior to making the motion to cancel the Fair, Gorder pointed out he was elected to be a Richland County commissioner to represent everyone and make decisions to protect people.
“It would be really selfish if I just sat back and decided on my own,” Gorder told the group, which seemed evenly split on whether to cancel the Fair. “To plan this Fair, it takes well-more than thirty days. We can only sell seventy-five percent of the tickets to the rodeo and concert.
“This is very difficult to take tax dollars you guys pay and put on a Fair that is profitable,” Gorder continued.
He estimated the Richland County Fair, entering its 100th year in 2020, normally has up to 30,000 people attending over three days. However, Gorder also made clear economic considerations were not his primary concern about holding what many consider to be the county’s most important event of the year.
“The Richland County Fair Board made the unanimous decision to recommend to cancel the Fair,” Gorder reminded everyone in making the motion.
Commissioner Young, who seconded the motion to cancel the Fair, told the audience he was initially unsure about how he would vote.
“I came to this [meeting] undecided,” Young said. “I was hoping that maybe we’d be able to put the thing on. I want the Fair, but I am in no way smarter than the people in the medical profession to second-guess them.”
Several people in attendance did not concur with Young and Gorder.
Pointing to the U.S. flag as a symbol, Howard Rambur of Sidney said, “The flag of the United States is made up of personal liberties and personal freedoms.
“There’s ways of you guys getting around this,” Rambur said to the commissioners. “Sidney does have a damned good Fair.”
Rambur said cancelling the Fair in other parts of the country has hurt commerce and free enterprise.
“It’s killed Main Street,” he said. “None of this makes sense. If this wasn’t an election year, none of this would happen.”
At least two young representatives from 4-H were in attendance at the Richland County Commissioners meeting. Both implored the commissioners to allow local 4-H clubs to continue with their normal Fair activities in some private capacity, even if they voted to cancel the public Fair.
Their voices were heard. Gorder, in his motion, recommended that 4-H be allowed to hold its events.
“I think we can run a 4-H Club Fair safe,” Gorder said. “But all of those other events, when we know we’re gonna have a loss...it’s gonna be a struggle. It’s a very difficult decision we’re in.”
COVID-19, and concerns about community health, played a pivotal role in Gorder’s vote to cancel the Fair, he said.
“I just gotta do what’s right,” Gorder said. “I can’t, in good conscience, make that decision” to continue with the Fair.
At the beginning of the meeting, one vendor sincerely expressed his disappointment about the possibility that the Fair might be cancelled.
“The Fair brings back a little joy and happiness for some people,” the vendor said.
A citizen named Larry was more vocal about his disappointment in the possible outcome that the Fair would be cancelled.
“PC be damned,” said Larry. “The only way we can get rid of the ‘herd immunity’ is by letting people out.’ Common sense is the cure. If you’re concerned then stay home.”
Facing the commissioners, Larry continued, “It’s your choice. If you choose to cancel all of the events, I would be truly disappointed.”
The theme of herds — of animals and crowds of vulnerable Richland County citizens — was voiced numerous times during the meeting.
“I'm all for the Fair,” said Mitchell. “I'm still for the Fair. I was disappointed in the Fair Board's decision. No one has told me what a pandemic is, and personally I think we're a bunch of sheep if we cancel the fair.
“We're all just following along,” Mitchell said prior to the motion to cancel the Fair, which he voted against.
Mitchell acknowledged the logistics of continuing with the Fair seemed daunting. However, the commissioner also made clear he is not convinced that COVID-19 is as big of a threat as it appears to some people in the community and the state.
“Our personal opinion of this so-called pandemic is non-consequential,” Mitchell said. “It is what it is, whether we want the Fair or not.”
At the end of the meeting, the majority of commissioners decided to play it safe and cancel this year’s Richland County Fair and Rodeo.
The value of a volunteer cannot be measured. We often overlook the value of the person sitting behind the desk of the family surgical waiting room, or the volunteer who visits and assists our loved ones in the nursing home or assisted living facility.
Volunteers are important assets to a medical facility, but their true impact is on the mental well-being they bring to patients and residents alike.
Value of Volunteers
Diana Meehan, Caring Corner Gift Shop director at Sidney Health Center, stated: “It is difficult to measure the impact a vital volunteer program has to a facility. You can report the financial gain by running the numbers of what the organization would pay an employee to fill the position and hours a volunteer provides. This monetary figure is significant and valuable to Sidney Health Center.
“The real, non-replaceable, value of a volunteer cannot be measured,” Meehan continued. “My definition of a volunteer is someone who gives unselfishly for another’s gain and benefit.
“Volunteers come to work because they care, they want to help, and they want to give of themselves,” Meehan added. “Volunteers give more personal time to the individual they are serving in the organization because they can do so without distractions or interruptions. Volunteers who work directly with customers, residents and patients become a friend to them and their family members.”
Marlys Anvik, senior executive of Long-Term Care at Sidney Health Care, stated: “We have seen the value of what visitations and personal contact means to the well-being of our residents during this time of COVID-19 restrictions. It is a crucial component to promoting a healthy environment for residents to thrive while living in the nursing home or an assisted living facility.”
Sidney Health Center currently has nine departments that utilize volunteers. The number of volunteers ranges from 120 to 150 throughout the year. This number includes those who volunteer on a regular basis. It does not include people who have donated time throughout the year to an event or fundraiser.
How has COVID-19 Affected the Number of Volunteers?
The Caring Corner Gift Shop has utilized 8 of its 30 active volunteers during the months of March through June 2020.
“Although many were willing to continue volunteering, I limited our volunteers to those low risk and able to work a longer shift,” Meehan reported.
Anvik responded: “Due to visitor restrictions in the long-term senior living settings, Sidney Health Center suspended the volunteer programs at Extended Care and The Lodge to minimize the risk of exposure to those most vulnerable to COVID-19, our elderly population.
“Following state guidelines, the nursing home and assisted living facilities implemented the visitor restrictions in mid-March as directed by Governor Steve Bullock,” Anvik continued. “In June, Sidney Health Center tested all the residents and staff at Extended Care and The Lodge for COVID-19 and confirmed that the disease was not present in either setting at this time, ensuring our precautionary measures are working.”
Sidney Health Center Extended Care welcomes volunteers to visit and read to residents, assist with various group activities, or share their special talents. The residents always enjoy when volunteers share in their talents.
“Any interaction we can offer residents is a tremendous help to their mental and social well-being,” Anvik stated.
Those people interested in volunteering at Sidney Health Center can contact the Richland County Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) through the Richland County Health Department.
The Caring Corner requires that an application be completed, followed by an informal interview, which is held to make sure the store and the volunteer are a good fit.
The Caring Corner Gift Shop and Good Cents Store at Sidney Health Center completed the checklist required for local businesses, as directed by the Richland County Health Department under Phase One of “Reopening the Big Sky.” The checklist complies with state guidelines.
Both locations have taken the following precautionary measures:
• Social distancing protocols
• Enhanced cleaning and sanitizing procedures
• Daily health screenings of employees and volunteers
• Wearing fabric face masks to minimize the spread of infectious disease like COVID-19
NOTE: At this time, the volunteer programs are suspended at Sidney Health Center’s long-term facilities including Extended Care and The Lodge for the health and safety of the residents. The volunteer programs will resume when the visitor restrictions are lifted, Sidney Health Center representatives stated.
Individuals interested in volunteering at The Lodge should contact Director Jodie Leland at 406-488-4682.
Individuals interested in volunteering at Sidney Health Center Extended Care should contact Engagement Director Kris Radke at 406-488-2338.
The 30th Annual Sunrise Festival of the Arts is Saturday, July 11. The festival will be held at at Veterans Memorial Park in Sidney. It starts at 8 a.m. and continues until 4 p.m.
The Sunrise Festival connects local and regional artists, craftspeople and authors with shoppers and enthusiasts. The Sidney Area Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture Sunrise Festival Committee plans and executes a full day of shopping, demonstrations, live entertainment, kids’ activities and food options.
Purchase a Sunrise Festival button and redeem discounts offered by local merchants and enter to win prizes, including the annual grand prize: artwork from featured artist of the year Fink Furniture. Presenting sponsor is Dasinger Oil Properties.
COVID-19 isolation is recommended for active positive cases. Isolation means that a sick person is asked to stay at home, away from others, to prevent the spread of the disease.
Exposed or positive household members may spend time together. Individuals in isolation may also spend time outdoors. Active cases must wear a mask if going out in public is absolutely necessary.
Individuals who were named as close contacts are considered exposed, and are asked to be tested and quarantine. The quarantine lasts 14 days past the last exposure. During this time, the individual will monitor their health for the development of COVID-19 symptoms.
If symptoms do not develop during this time, the individual is released from quarantine by the Health Department, and may return to normal activities.
Active cases of COVID-19 are considered recovered and released from isolation when the following criteria are met:
• The individual has been free of a fever for more than 72 hours; AND
• More than 10 days have lapsed since the first onset of symptoms; AND
• Respiratory symptoms have improved.
All three criteria must be met to be released. Richland County Health Department representatives contact active cases to conduct a health and symptom check daily.
Individuals are released by the Richland County Health Officer based on these daily health checks, which assure the criteria for release are met. Recovered individuals must also meet any requirements put forth by their employer, which may include a negative test result.
Recovered cases are no longer deemed infectious, and do not pose a risk to the public. Recovered cases are free to return to normal activities, including work, day care, church and recreational activities.
All Richland County residents should continue to protect themselves from COVID-19 by staying home when you are sick, monitoring for symptoms, washing your hands, and covering your cough.
Vulnerable populations, including those over 65 and those with compromised immune systems, should continue to shelter in place.
For all COVID-19 related questions or concerns, please call the 24/7 Information Line at 406-433-6947.
Stephanie Ler, RS, MPH, is the Richland County Health Department Public Information Officer.
Hunter and daughter Harper won the Sidney Herald’s 2020 photo contest. The fantastic pair won with this submission after writing: “Winning this contest would make for a great Father’s Day for this daddy/daughter duo.”
Thank you to ALL our sponsors:
Fink Family Chiropractic, High Caliber, 1st Choice Collision Center, B&B Rental, Sales and Service, Northwest Pipe Fitting, and CarQuest
Everett Jensen, Mayson Mindt and Allyson Young received scholarships from the Montana Association of Counties (MACO). The scholarships were presented to the aspiring young recipients by MACO President Shane Gorder, one of three Richland County commissioners.