Restrictions loosen as cases drop

SEELEY LAKE – Every few minutes the phone rang at All Decked Out on Monday. Owner Becki Robbins did her best to work her customers in but she is booked solid for this week and into next.

Robbins was shut down March 23. She doesn't qualify for grants because she doesn't have any employees. While she could get a small business loan she declined and has continued to use her two months of reserve to pay bills through this unexpected emergency.

"Being in business in Seeley is so unstable," said Robbins. "You just never know."

When the Governor announced that salons could open April 27, Robbins started calling her customers and booking appointments. However, the next day Missoula City-County Health Department announced salons, body art and massage parlors needed to remain closed until case counts declined.

"I just wanted to cry," said Robbins.

Robbins wrote letters to the Governor's office and the Health Department requesting she and the other stylist in Seeley Lake Glenda Sharbono to be allowed to reopen their salons.

"We are one person shows," said Robbins. "Even on our busy days we never have more than three or four people in the salons at once."

Friday, May 8 Missoula Health Officer Ellen Leahy updated local orders that were initially issued April 24.

"We are at a different place than we were on April 24 when the original orders were issued. We had nine active cases. We were still getting new cases of COVID, and we were following two dozen close contacts," said Cindy Farr, Incident Commander with the Missoula City-County Health Department's COVID-19 response. "We are now at zero active cases and haven't had a new case in over two weeks."

The orders allowed businesses and individuals providing grooming, beauty, body art, piercing, massage, spa and similar services to open May 11 with a service plan that supports employee health screening, social distancing, face-covering use and enhanced cleaning and sanitizing.

To comply with the reopening requirements Robbins increased sanitation protocols between clients, has masks available, only schedules one appointment at a time, will not accept walk-ins and asks that her customers remain in their vehicle until she comes out to get them. Her nail tech Tessa Stevens has a completely separate area where she works so social distancing for them is not an issue.

"It is such mixed emotions. I'm not paranoid and I'm a healthy person," said Robbins. "I truly want businesses to be open but I want to do it safely."

The Health Department also raised the limit on events and gatherings such as fairs, concerts, races and sporting events, and private parties outside the home to 50 people. Farmers' markets may open for the sale of unprocessed agricultural products starting May 23. And schools may hold graduation providing that they have a plan to keep families separated by six feet and can limit the total number of people to 250 based on guidance for large gatherings.

The local orders will remain in place until the governor moves to Phase Two or the health officer rescinds or modifies them.

Farr added that while the outbreak appears to be winding down that COVID-19 is still a risk. The health 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 can 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," said Farr. "Behavior matters. Social distancing and helping businesses and organizations follow the provisions is not only helpful for them but helpful for the community."

If you have questions about how the local orders affect your business or organization, please call 406-258-4755.


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