Missoula County adds restrictions to statewide reopening plan

MISSOULA – Friday, April 24 Missoula Health Officer Ellen Leahy issued additional local orders to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 for Missoula County. These measures followed Governor Steve Bullock’s announcement on Wednesday, rescinding the “Stay at Home” directive for individuals on April 26 and allowed some businesses to reopen on April 27.

“Given Missoula’s large population [second largest in the state], our need to protect our health care hub and particularly to avoid preventative transmission of disease and reduce the likelihood that we would have to re-shutter businesses and services, we don’t want to have to go back,” said Leahy. “It will also allow local public health to develop guidance for businesses during this transition.”

Missoula County issued these additional, more stringent requirements for Missoula County.

Events and gatherings such as fairs, markets, concerts, races, sporting events and private parties outside the home are limited to 25 people during Phase One. Events with 25 or fewer must maintain six-foot social distancing—the requirement to limit groups to 10 people when distancing cannot be maintained stands.

Businesses and individuals providing grooming, beauty, body art, piercing, massage, spa and similar services in Missoula County will remain closed until the state shifts into Phase Two. These services include but are not limited to barbers, cosmetologists, estheticians and manicurists. Additionally, massage services must remain closed until Phase Two unless affiliated with a licensed chiropractor or physical therapy services.

When asked why the order was county-wide and no exceptions were made for rural businesses in the county that only have one hair stylist, Leahy responded in an email, “There are one-person operations in the City as well. We have to determine how to mitigate exposure because personal care is all done within six-feet of the customer, usually much closer. The first phase is the strictest and allowing people to work with others at close range is safer community-wide when we see how the first set of releasing restrictions works.”

Non-essential retail businesses may open only for curbside pick-up or delivery on April 27.

Essential and non-essential retail businesses, except those with later opening dates, may provide in-store business on May 1, if they can meet requirements outlined in the County’s order. The requirements include limiting the number of customers, providing additional social distancing measures, staff health screening and ill staff exclusion. Businesses must develop a plan for how they can meet the state and local directives and provide it to the MCCHD before they are allowed to reopen.

Food and beverage establishments may continue to provide limited service by take-out or delivery. Dining areas may open on May 4, providing they meet the requirements in the Governor’s directive, and can provide six feet between customer groups, including in booths. This also applies to bars, casinos, distilleries and breweries.

Places of worship will be allowed to reopen Sunday, April 26 and must follow the guidelines in the statewide plan.

Leahy said the local orders enhance sections of the Governor’s plan and provide for a more gradual reopening process. They will remain in place until the Governor moves to Phase Two, or the health officer rescinds or modifies them.

“We know that there are cases in our County that have not been identified and are concerned that we could see a spike in cases if we loosen restrictions too quickly and without a plan. We need to take a measured approach to reopening in Missoula for the sake of the public’s health,” said Cindy Farr, Incident Commander with the Missoula City-County Health Department’s COVID-19 response.

Farr also added that the measures, while delaying some openings, will help minimize the chances of future closures or workforce impacts if cases increase. “What we don’t want is for businesses to invest in getting back on track, only to be affected again. Taking the time, providing guidance and moving methodically is important.”

The health department recognizes that loosening any restriction is likely to contribute to case numbers but knows restrictions long-term are not practical. Working with businesses and the community to create a “new normal” in the era of the pandemic is essential.

Since Wednesday, the Health Department received over 200 comments from community members, business owners and essential workers. About 90 percent of the comments asked for additional local measures, particularly to slow the reopening of the businesses which are covered in the order.

The Department encourages community members to practice personal and community protective measures. Monitoring for symptoms, staying home when sick, washing hands, social distancing and staying home as much as possible are still prevention measures that matter. Additionally, the Health Board’s recommendation for wearing cloth face coverings in public spaces where social distancing is hard may decrease community spread.

“Keeping cases down at this point comes down to behavior and contact tracing. We can do the contact tracing and provide guidance to our community, but we still need the community’s help. It is going to take all of us supporting each other to keep COVID-19 down,” said Farr. “We’ve weathered this storm as well as we have because of community thinking, and that’s what’s going to continue to matter.”

If you have questions about how the local orders affect your business or organization, please call 406-258-4755. The order is available at https://www.missoulacounty.us/home/showdocument?id=71615


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