Ravalli County Public Health Officer Dr. Carol Calderwood has resigned.
On Monday July 20, the county’s Public Health Officer issued the following letter of resignation:
It is the right time for me to step down as Ravalli County Health Officer and focus on my clinical practice. Sincere thanks to the Elected Officials, to Board of Health members, and to my numerous other county colleagues who have worked tirelessly with me through the beginning stages of the COVID pandemic. I am confident that our combined efforts, along with State and national actions, have slowed the spread and brought our community time to establish plans and to accumulate supplies. Systems are now in place for reasonable way forward, even if our teams may shift.
I believe that, locally, we still have the worst of our peak to come and that our combined social actions are probably at their most critical. Therefore, I do personally support the Governor’s Masking Directive, in part to increase chances that businesses may stay open.
For my part, I will shift to focus on my contributions through the hospital, but I’m certainly available to give medical advice to the County Public Health Nursing Office as long as needed.
Carol Calderwood, MD
Asked if blowback from her recent decision to cancel the main portion of the Ravalli County Fair was part of her reason for resigning, Calderwood said, “I think the county commissioners got most of that pressure. I gave them a letter of explanation as to why, but I think their constituency got quite a bit upset. I think they got more blow back than I did.”
“I’m happy to be the one to make that decision honestly, because it’s not a political decision at all to me,” said Calderwood. “It’s that I weighed it very carefully and I felt that I just couldn’t allow a mass gathering where we don’t know the slope of our upswing. So I think that the people that didn’t understand thought that they should have had more say. But it’s been OK on my end.”
The exact reason she decided it was time to resign, she said, had more to do with the recent announcement by the Sheriff and the County Commissioners that the Governor’s directive concerning mask wearing was not going to be enforced in Ravalli County.
“I think their decision on the masks after the Governor’s directive was the dividing issue. I wasn’t going to make it mandatory in our county knowing the differences of opinions. But once the Governor put out the directive, I feel that it’s not compliant with it to make it optional. I thought that that was enough of a difference between our positions. Not requiring is not consistent with the directive from the Governor and it just causes more dissension. It’s dangerous at this time when the science is coming out that the masking does make a difference in a pandemic where things can escalate, where masking can still perhaps change our local curve.”
Commissioner Jeff Burrows, who also sits as chairman on the Ravalli County Health Board, said that he was sorry to see Dr. Calderwood go. “I think she was working under very stressful conditions and had to make a lot of difficult decisions as the Public Health Officer, but she did a good job,” said Burrows.
Burrows said he knew she wasn’t happy about the press release that went out [see front page story] “but I thought it was benign. I thought it was just a good press release that we got out to the community. I know it created kind of a stir at the department, but I thought it was benign.” He said it was just a way of putting it out there that the Sheriff was not going to be issuing citations for not wearing a mask. He said the county and the governor were both trying to educate the public, he said, but nobody was going to get a criminal citation.
County Commission Chairman Chris Hoffman said, “We are devastated to lose her, and we hold her in the highest regard and have the utmost respect for her. This has been hard on everybody that has had to be on the front lines of it ever since the very beginning. The calls that she has had to make have been hard on her, hard on her family, and hard on the community. She is totally aware of that. It’s my belief that she’s done the very best that she can with what she’s had to work with in terms of directives from the governor’s office and doing what she thinks is right in keeping the community safe. I think she absolutely attacked it very furiously with the health of the whole community in mind.”
Hoffman said that he was very disappointed in the way Dr. Calderwood interpreted the press release.
“There was nothing in it that she should have felt undercut her,” said Hoffman. “I’m surprised and shocked and think she’s making more about that press release than was there.” Hoffman mentioned how it had been determined that these actions in relation to the Governor’s directive would be handled as civil matters, not criminal. “It’s not the Sheriff’s job,” he said. “Trespassing and disorderly conduct he will respond to.”
“I don’t see how that undermines anybody,” he said.
He said that he believed she was probably hit hard over her decision to cancel the fair.
“I think the press release meant, wait a minute folks let’s take a deep breath,” said Hoffman. “34 people have died in Montana. That’s .034% of the total population that they say have died of Covid. We are not New York. We are not a major metropolitan area. We’ve done a good job so far. Let’s keep doing a good job.”
“She took a lot of heat for canceling the fair and she’s the one who had to do it,” he said. He said they were asked to close the fair voluntarily and they said ‘No.’ He said they had a stack of 600 letters telling them not to close it and they won’t. He said they told her it was by law her authority and if she wanted to do it was her decision to make.
“I think that made her feel unsupported,” said Hoffman.
Calderwood gave two weeks’ notice and said she is willing to help in transitioning to a new Public Health Officer. The Board of Health is meeting this week on Friday to consider its options.
Cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in Ravalli County. Here is a summary of cases for the past several months:
• March – Ravalli County had one active case.
• April – Ravalli County had four active cases.
• May – Ravalli County had nine active cases.
• June – Ravalli County had 17 active cases.
• So far, in the month of July, Ravalli County has had 26 active cases.
As of 2 p.m. Monday, Ravalli County Public Health reported three new cases of COVID-19. Ravalli County now has 13 active cases of COVID-19. One active case is currently hospitalized.
According to the Health Department, two of these cases remain presumptive positives due to symptoms consistent with the virus, and one of these presumptive cases has also had direct contact with family members who are active cases. Contact tracing has been performed on all cases by Public Health nurses.
All active cases are in isolation and their contacts are in quarantine.
Public Health nurses continue to release active cases from isolation as they recover from symptoms. Direct contacts are released from quarantine as they complete their 14-day period without symptoms.
Monday’s press release also contained the following:
“Ravalli County residents are all on the same team when it comes to eliminating the threat of COVID-19 from our community. The behavior of individuals in our community will be the primary factor influencing the ability for the virus to spread. The importance of adhering to Public Health recommendations cannot be overstated.
“Keep yourself safe. Keep your family safe. Guard the most vulnerable citizens in our community.
• Keep your social circle as small as possible
• Wear a mask when in public or interacting with people
• Maintain a minimum distance of six feet from other people
• Wash your hands thoroughly and often
If you have any questions regarding COVID-19, please call: (406) 375-6672.”
As of Monday, July 20, there were 2621 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Montana, including 88 new cases reported on Monday.
Total number of tests completed – 139,042
Total hospitalizations – 167
Active hospitalizations – 48
Total deaths – 39
Total recovered – 1334.