Mike Pence at Republic rally in Belgrade 9/14/20

BOZEMAN, Mont. - The Gallatin City-County Health Department says it wasn't contacted by organizers of Vice President Mike Pence's visit to Belgrade on Monday, breaking a local emergency health rule that requires gatherings planned for more than 50 people to consult with the health department.

Pence came to the Treasure State to campaign for Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, as well as U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, who is running for governor, and state auditor Matt Rosendale, who is running for Montana's only U.S. House seat. Around 700 people attended the rally at the Big Yellow Barn in Belgrade.

Health Officer Matt Kelley emphasized to Montana Right Now that the rule is not specific to Monday's rally and that it applied to any large event held in the county. The health department has worked with the Sweet Pea Festival, weddings, businesses, and more over the last few months for event planning in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kelley says the goal is to help anyone organizing an event so that it can still go on in a safe way.

"Larger events where people are not socially distanced and not wearing face coverings puts the community at risk," said Kelley on Monday. "It potentially puts fuel on the fire of the pandemic."

The following is a letter sent on Friday from Kelley to members of Steve Daines' team:

Hello John, Julia, and Danielle –

As Health Officer in Gallatin County, it came to my attention late this week that your organization may be planning or helping to plan a sizeable event on Monday in Gallatin County. I am hoping that one or more of you can help me get the attached letter and attachments to those who are planning that event.

My goal with this correspondence is to work proactively with organizers to help them run an event that is as safe as possible and in harmony with the various local health rules and statewide directives designed to keep Montanans as safe as possible during the pandemic.

I am not sure to whom to send this correspondence, but I recalled John’s email below from July in which the senator urges Montana to mask up. In that spirit, I am hopeful that the event next week will provide adequate space and a manageable crowd size for social distancing and widespread use of face coverings to protect those in attendance and our community. The guidance provided is consistent with guidance we have been providing many organizations these past few months as they work to manage and alter events in ways that protect those we all serve.

Thank you for your work in this area.

Best regards,

-Matt

The letter was also sent to Pence's team. Kelley says as of Monday morning, the health department had not heard back from Daines' or Pence's team.

While attendees at the rally were asked to wear masks and had their temperatures checked at the entrance, chairs for the rally were not socially distanced and mask wearing was not enforced. In photos and videos from the rally, attendees can be seen standing close together and moving around freely before the speeches began. The event was held outdoors. Daines, Gianforte, and Rosendale were not seen wearing masks. Pence - who is head of the nation's Coronavirus Task Force - also did not appear to wear a mask.

Kelley did not say whether the health department had plans to fine or reprimand any of the parties involved, but he did note that it is difficult to enforce the rule for one-off events like Monday's rally.

RELATED STORY: Officials prepare for Bozeman rally with VP Mike Pence

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