Regulations lifted, metrics in place to repeal mask rule
April 22, 2021
MISSOULA COUNTY - The Missoula City-County Board of Health voted four to one to convert several of the County’s current COVID-19 mitigation efforts from requirements to recommendations during a virtual meeting Thursday, April 15. This conversion applies to the operators of businesses, bars, restaurants, barbers, gyms and other entities in Missoula County.
Replacing all of the capacity limits and other mitigation requirements, these operators are now recommended to do the following:
• Find ways to enable physical distancing between non-associated customers.
• Have staff maintain a distance of six feet from each other if possible.
• Ensure staff is aware of COVID-19 symptoms and is preventing symptomatic individuals from being present inside the workplace.
• Encourage staff to get tested if symptomatic and to use asymptomatic testing services when available.
• Encourage staff to get vaccinated.
• Frequently clean and sanitize commonly touched surfaces.
Face covering requirements will be converted into recommendations when at least 60% of Missoula County residents ages 16 and older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The Health Officer will review data every Tuesday to determine if this criteria has been met. Currently 33% of the county population is fully vaccinated while 53% have received one vaccine.
There was an additional vote as to whether the threshold should be raised to 65% but the board ultimately voted to go with 60%. Board member Pamela Boyd, who voted no on the conversion, said she felt that 60% was too low.
“I’m feeling uncomfortable with that 60%,” she said. “If it’s based on eligible population, I would be more comfortable if we were … to raise it to 70% or … have it be 60% of total population.”
Board member Amber Sherrill responded that they are navigating a unique and once-in-a-lifetime situation and that she does not think there is a perfect number.
“I’m comfortable raising that percentage up from 60, whether we base it on total population or eligible population, but I don’t want us to get it to an unreachable number,” she said. “We may never get to 70% of the entire population of the county being vaccinated.”
An amendment that was made in the adoption includes the line, “The Health Officer shall evaluate case data weekly to ensure that the incidence is not trending up, over 25 cases per 100,000 people on a seven-day rolling average, and to evaluate whether additional controls are needed to limit the spread of COVID-19.”
The trigger for requiring face coverings at outdoor events and gatherings has also increased from 25 to 50 people. Events will no longer require written MCCHD approval. However, the department is still encouraging event planners to continue mitigation strategies and to reach out to them if they have any questions or would like further guidance. Events expecting over 1,000 attendees should consult with MCCHD at least 10 days before taking place.
Cindy Farr, MCCHD COVID-19 response incident commander, said it will be up to each school board to decide if they will require masks after the mandate becomes a recommendation.
During her epidemiological update current Health Board Officer Ellen Leahy revealed that Missoula County’s Rt transmission rate, test positivity rate and case halving time have all improved since the week before.
Farr said they are continuing to provide testing in rural areas each week and are actively working on organizing vaccination events as well. MCCHD is encouraging rural pharmacies to sign up to be a vaccine provider with the Department of Public Health and Human Services so there is more consistent access to vaccines.
Vaccine appointments are available in Missoula County and can be viewed at https://covid19.missoula.co. Also, MCCHD’s vaccine clinic in Southgate Mall is now accepting walk-up appointments nearly every day of the week during specific hours.