Missoula County approves revised restrictions

MISSOULA - The Missoula County Board of Health unanimously voted in favor of adopting the Oct. 27 Health Officer Order with revisions. The order went into effect Friday, Nov. 20 and will remain in effect until revoked or revised.

In addition to the already announced capacities on businesses and gatherings as well as required notice for events over 25, gatherings expecting 25-250 attendees must now provide a notice to the Health Department 10 days in advance.

Gathering size limits do not apply to students in classrooms or at K-12 school-related activities, but they do apply to audience members at said activities. Missoula City-County Health Officer Ellen Leahy said local evidence has shown that protective environments are much better at being able to regulate spread compared to ones that are not as well controlled.

Before the October order, retail stores, bars, restaurants, gyms and places of assembly were able to operate at 75% capacity. That is now reduced to 50%. This revised order clarifies that these businesses and organizations must now determine and post the capacity. Owners and managers must know how many people are in their space at a given time and they should have protocols in place to restrict people when they are reaching or are at capacity.

The order also requires that restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries and casinos close and have all patrons out by 10 p.m. Group sizes are limited to six per table.

Environmental Health Director Shannon Therriault said they were capping bar hours at that time because from their observations the busiest times at the bars were after 10 p.m. Also as the night went on, patrons would begin mixing with people outside of their groups. 

According to the revised order, the Health Department may approve sports activities with more than 25 intermingling players if those plans comply with the recommendations and requirements of Big Sky Conference and NCAA.

Leahy said when it comes to monitoring the status of the pandemic there are three key indicators: epidemiological, resource and community mitigation. For epidemiological, compared to last week while the daily incidence of new cases and the transmission rate have gotten better, the type of spread and test positivity rate have gotten worse.

The daily incidence of new cases would ideally be at or under 25 per 100,000. However, as of Nov. 19 it is at 67. Leahy said while this rate is not great, it is much better than the state average which sits at 116.

The ideal RT transmission rate would be under one, but the county is currently at 1.02. At the peak of the county’s spike it was 1.67.

For resource indicators, test turnarounds, initiated case investigations and hospital availability have all gotten worse compared to the week before. Leahy did say Missoula’s hospitals are better than most of the other 10 major hospitals in the state. Test turnarounds have gone from 48 hours to 72. 

For community mitigation indicators, the average number of contacts has stayed the same at 5.1 while the ideal is five or under.

Leahy said while many aspects of the pandemic are worsening, one positive is that the county is pushing down a perfect exponential spread even though it is experiencing linear growth. She said she appreciates businesses that are cooperating even though Congress has not yet pushed money forward. In the meantime all the community can do now is try to slow the spread as much as possible until vaccines can be distributed to the general public.

“Even when (vaccines) do start, they won’t be available for the general public so we’re looking at many months of holding on and holding down,” Leahy said.

Public Information Officer Mary Parrish summarized the public comments they received between Nov. 13 and Nov. 17. Around 70% of the recorded 249 comments were in favor of adopting the additional restrictions, while 23% were opposed and 7% were unclear or unrelated.

Of those in favor of the restrictions, 49% came from the city and 21% came from the County. Of those opposed, 14% came from the city and 9% came from the County.

Leahy announced that she will be resigning her position after 31 years. The Board began the secession process to fill the position. They will begin advertising the job description and listing as soon as possible.


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