BILLINGS — Lodge Grass Mayor Quincy Dabney said Tuesday a positive case of COVID-19 in town Monday prompted him to extend a lockdown order for town residents at least into the first week of June.
"Before, we didn’t want it to come in. Now, we’re trying to isolate it,” Dabney told Q2 over the phone Tuesday.
Lodge Grass businesses reopened under Montana Gov. Steve Bullock's phase one can remain operational. But Dabney asked Lodge Grass residents to only leave their homes for work or other essential activities like grocery shopping, or picking up prescriptions.
“The businesses all remain open. Everyone is allowed to go to work. The daily life and everything is normal, but there’s no cruising, there’s no going back and forth between different houses. It’s shut down. We’re basically starting our quarantine all over again," Dabney told Q2 over the phone.
Lodge Grass is home to three of the Crow reservation's road-side safety checkpoints manned by tribal officials and sometimes Dabney himself. Checkpoints have been scattered through the reservation since late March to curb out-of-state and out-of-county travel into the reservation and educate residents.
Dabney, who's been mayor for two-and-a-half years, said non-locals are asked about their business in Lodge Grass and are asked to turn around if they shouldn't be in the community.
“Basically, it’s no out-of-staters. I was up all night last night. We did a checkpoint at our main entrance coming into town. And that was education not only for me, but for the people. But even then, I handed out gloves, masks, disinfectant, stuff like that to just bring that awareness to the people," Dabney said.
Dabney said two of the three Lodge Grass checkpoints were manned on Tuesday.
Lodge Grass hasn't had a police force since 1997, Dabney said. So he's taken up the task of making sure people stay at home. In a Facebook post Monday, Dabney said fines could be issued to people not staying at home. But he's taking an education-first approach.
“Basically my authority is going as far as, 'I’m going to turn around and follow you home and then I’ll probably knock on your door and just tell your parents.' Or if you are an adult, I’m just going to follow you home and be like ‘hey, come on. We’re on shut down, on lock down, you know it. So just stay home,'" Dabney said.
The mayor does not have the authority to place people under arrest. About 90 percent of the community has been abiding by the lockdown, Dabney said.
The mayor been been building relationships with the community while bringing food boxes to more than 500 Lodge Grass residents during the pandemic. Dabney said he's trying to use those relationships to keep the community safe.
“I’ve had to get really creative to make relationships with dealers or people who were speeding. So I used food boxes … that’s how I had to build relationships. It’s quite the challenge. But the people are totally worth it. We can beat it but we just need to quarantine," Dabney said.
Before the new Lodge Grass COVID-19 case, a woman in her 20s, came to light on Monday, Dabney said the original plan was to lift his lockdown on Thursday. With news of the positive case, the lockdown may now extend into the first week of June.
"I just don’t need this blowing up again, because you’ve got to start everything all over again. You’ve got to start quarantine again. I have to contact outside food services. I have to contact different organizations or nonprofits that are getting supplies like disinfectant, and I’ve got to start that process all over again," Dabney said.
Some Lodge Grass residents were unhappy with the prospect of more community events being canceled because of the extended lockdown, Dabney said. But he would rather cancel events than hold funerals.
“It’s this, or looking at our first death because of COVID-19. And I’m not going to allow that to happen under my watch," Dabney said.
Dabney said Lodge Grass needs more COVID-19 testing supplies.
"I would really like to make judgements off actual numbers. And that’s hard to do when there’s no testing going on. So if I could get that testing, we could watch it more closely," he said.
Word travels fast in a small town like Lodge Grass and even faster on social media. Dabney doesn't want people treated as outcasts if they get sick, and he would rather the community rally around the sick to help them get well.
"I like to put myself in other people’s shoes to get an outside view of things. How would I feel if I had COVID-19 and I had all this stuff coming at me when I went to Walmart like everyone else and I just happened to touch the wrong thing?” Dabney said.
People who are sick don't need the added stress from social media comments, Dabney said.
“Quarantine is hard enough knowing that you have it. And in a small community like mine, knowing that everyone else knows you have it, that just adds stress," Dabney said.
During his lockdown, Dabney encouraged Lodge Grass residents to spend time with their family and get to know their kids. He said people sometimes spend to much time on social media.
“Because in this technology world, we’re so stuck on social media. And we’re actually being pulled from building that relationship with our kids. Personally, I have seen it as a coal miner before this. When you get so busy, you kind of want to do your own thing and the kids get left out. So that’s my push during this time of quarantine, lets spend time with the family," Dabney said.