Missoula health officer updates order to allow more businesses to open

Health Department

Missoula Health Officer Ellen Leahy today issued an update to her April 24 order as part of the gradual reopening plan for Missoula County. The main updates to the order include:

  • Businesses and individuals providing grooming, beauty, body art, piercing, massage, spa and similar services to open Monday, May 11. These entities can open as long as they create a service plan that supports employee health screening,
    social distancing, face-covering use, and enhanced cleaning and sanitizing.
  • The limit on events and gatherings such as fairs, concerts, races and sporting events, and private parties outside the home was raised to 50 people. Events with 50 or fewer must maintain six-foot social distancing. This does not replace the governor’s requirement to limit groups to 10 people when distancing cannot be maintained.
  • Farmers markets may open for the sale of unprocessed agricultural products starting Saturday, May 23. The market must have a plan to support social distancing, including the flow of customers and limiting the number of people in the market at one time. Vendors must space tables six feet apart. Vendors, employees, and volunteers are required to screen for symptoms and have provisions for personal hygiene and enhanced cleaning and sanitizing.
  • 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 schools must provide a plan to support social distancing, personal hygiene and sanitation.

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

Gov. Bullock’s announcement on May 7 regarding the opening of gyms, fitness studios, some pools, movie theaters, and non-tactile museums are not affected by the local order.

These facilities may open Friday, May 15, providing they can follow the requirements outlined by the governor.

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

Farr adds 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.”

For detailed descriptions of what these businesses will need to do to safely reopen, check out the health department’s guide online at missoula.co/reopeningmissoulacounty. If you have questions about how the local orders affect your business or organization, please call 406-258-4755.

Health officer issues order for more gradual reopening in Missoula County

Health Department

Missoula Health Officer Ellen Leahy issued an order Friday providing additional guidance and restrictions to accompany the statewide Reopening the Big Sky plan Gov. Steve Bullock outlined earlier this week.

The order enhances sections of the governor’s plan and provides for a more gradual reopening process. It intends to protect public health and Missoula’s healthcare hub, our communities, and our essential businesses, services and workers. It will also allow local public health to develop guidance for businesses during this transition.

The key components of the order include:

  • Events are limited to 25 people. During Phase One, which begins Monday, April 27, events and gatherings such as, but not limited to, fairs, festivals, markets (including farmers’ markets), concerts, sporting events, races and private parties outside the home must be limited to 25 people during Phase One. A 6-foot physical distance between participants must be maintained. If this distancing cannot be maintained, then these gathers are limited to 10 people, per the governor’s directive.
  • Salons, spas, body art, grooming and similar services must remain closed. Hair and nail salons, barbershops, spas, tattoo parlors, massage parlors and other businesses and individuals providing grooming, beauty, body art, piercing, massage and similar services will remain closed until Phase Two. Massage therapy affiliated with licensed physical therapy and chiropractor services is exempt from this requirement.
  • Retail businesses must take additional measures to reopen. Retail business, formerly deemed “non-essential” and required to be closed during the stay-at-home directive, may reopen to only curbside pick-up and delivery on Monday, April 27. These businesses may resume in-store services on Friday, May 1, if all the requirements below are met. The following requirements also apply to essential retail businesses that continued operations under the statewide stay-at-home directive:
    • At any given time, the maximum number of customers must be 50% of usual business capacity
    • Measures to protect customers and staff waiting in line at checkout counters, such as visible markers or signs denoting six-foot separation or temporary barriers, are in place
    • Staff have received training on practicing good hygiene, maintaining physical distancing, recognizing symptoms of COVID-19, and not reporting to work or remaining at work if experiencing symptoms;
    • Businesses must develop and implement an individualized plan addressing the requirements in the governor’s re-opening directive and this order. Businesses must keep the completed plan on-site and make it available to the Missoula City-County Health Department upon request.
  • Eating and drinking establishments must adhere to requirements to reopen. Restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries and casinos may reopen on Monday, May 4, as long as all the guidelines outlined in the governor’s directive can be met. The main difference here between the state plan and the Missoula County approach is that the guidelines outlined in the governor’s plan will be requirements in Missoula County. If establishments cannot meet these requirements, they must remain closed during Phase One. In addition, these establishments also must provide for at least 6 feet of separation between diners and groups of diners, including those sitting in booths.

These measures will remain in effect until the governor moves the state to Phase Two re-opening (the date for which has not been determined) or until this order is revoked or revised based on review of epidemiological data, testing availability and public health and medical capacity to control the spread of the virus and treat COVID-19.

To read the full order and access additional guidance, head to missoula.co/cvirus. If you have questions about how the local orders affect your business or organization, you can call 406-258-4755.

“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,” said Cindy Farr, incident commander with the Missoula City-County Health Department’s COVID-19 response. “We need to take a measured approach to reopening in Missoula for the sake of the public’s health.”

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,” Farr said. “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 more than 200 comments from community members, business owners and essential workers. About 90% of the comments asked for additional local measures, particularly to slow the reopening of the businesses that are covered in the order.

Under the governor’s directive, public schools in Montana will have the option to reopen starting Thursday, May 7. The decision to reopen will be up to individual school districts, including Missoula County Public Schools and other districts in the county. The Board of Trustees for MCPS, the largest district in the county, plans to make that decision on Friday, May 1.

Along with these measures, 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,” Farr said. “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. We’ve weathered this storm as well as we have because of community thinking, and that’s what’s going to continue to matter.”

COVID-19 and mental health: Missoula County resources

Mental health

These are difficult times, and it is natural and normal to be experiencing strong feelings. There are a lot of changes and directives coming at us right now, but one thing we want to make sure you do is be gentle with yourself and take some time for your mental health.

The Missoula City-County Health Department has compiled the following resources for anyone experiencing changes in their mental health. There are a lot of great online resources available as well as crisis and warm lines ready for your call. Please also take advantage of telehealth options with your therapists and counselors.

▪National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

▪Crisis Text Line: Text “MT” to 741-741
▪Missoula City-County Health Suicide Prevention office: 406-258-3881
▪Western Montana Mental Health Center: 406-532-8949
▪Montana Warmline (877-688-3377) is available 8 a.m.- 4 p.m. for people with a mental illness who want to talk to a peer who is in recovery for their own mental illness: http://montanawarmline.org
▪Shatter Proof has resources to help those dealing with substance abuse disorder during this time of COVID: https://www.shatterproof.org
▪Online meditation and calming apps such https://insighttimer.com/ and https://www.calm.com/ can be helpful.
▪Partners in Health has advice for maintaining mental health while social distancing: https://www.pih.org/article/10-mental-health-tips-coronavirus-social-distancing

Take care of yourself, and take care of each other. We’ll get through this!

Missoula health officials close bars, limit food service to prevent COVID-19 spread

social distancing

The Missoula City-County health officer issued an order closing bars and limiting restaurant service starting at 8 a.m. Tuesday, March 17, through 8 a.m. Tuesday, March 24.

The order comes on the heels of CDC guidance to restrict events to fewer than 50 people, and the growing evidence supporting social distancing, or the avoidance of large groups of people and close contact. Other jurisdictions in Montana are doing the same, including Butte, as well as elected officials across the country.

“I know that this is a big ask with Saint Patty’s day tomorrow, but this is not a typical time,” said Health Officer Ellen Leahy. “This is a global pandemic of a new virus that spreads easily from person-to-person, and we need everyone’s help in curbing it.”

While the order prohibits the operation of bars and dine-in food service, the order does allow for limited operation via drive-thru, take out and delivery service. It also doesn’t include food services that are a sole source of food for a population such as nursing homes, UM dining or hospitals. Food services that operate in a limited capacity need to follow the food service regulations and additional guidance from the health department.

With two presumptive positive COVID-19 tests in Missoula County over the weekend and other cases across the state, the order is timely, especially in light of Gov. Steve Bullock ordering K-12 schools to close statewide.

“We appreciate the cooperation of the businesses affected,” Leahy said. “One of the great things about Missoula is the community-minded approach of the business community. Working together, we can minimize the impact on Missoula’s health and the economy.”

For the latest updates on COVID-19 in Missoula County, visit missoula.co/cvirus or call 406-258-INFO from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Missoula medical clinics set up focused screening centers for COVID-19

COVID questions

With COVID-19 cases now confirmed in Montana, including two in Missoula County, two Missoula medical clinics are operating focused screening centers to care for patients with respiratory and flu-like symptoms.

The focused screening centers are located at:

Community FirstCare (North Reserve Only)
2230 N. Reserve St., Suite 402
Hours: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Call the complementary 24/7 Nurse on Call for symptom evaluation, 406-327-4770. Patients with symptoms should call in advance of visiting the hospital or any clinic.
Check-in online: http://www.communityfirstcare.com

Providence Grant Creek Walk-In Clinic
3075 N. Reserve St., Suite Q
Hours 8 a.m.-7 p.m., Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
If the patient is experiencing symptoms, please call in advance: 406-327-1750

Only people experiencing fever, difficulty breathing, cough and other respiratory and flu-like symptoms should access these focused screening centers. Patients with a primary medical provider should still call that office first before visiting a focused screening center.

The Missoula City-County Health Department continues to work with Community Medical Center, Partnership Health Center, Providence St. Patrick Hospital, Western Montana Clinic and other health professionals to share information and best practices to ensure specific strategies can be deployed that work best for our community. COVID-19 is new, but disaster response is not. Missoula hospitals and health systems conduct emergency preparedness training regularly. Medical providers treat patients with infectious diseases every day, so protocols are already in place to care for these patients while ensuring the safety of medical staff, visitors and the community.

Based on the experiences of other communities with confirmed cases, most people who become infected with COVID-19 will not become seriously ill and will not need hospitalization or even a trip to the emergency room or medical clinic. Emergency care is a precious resource that should be reserved for those with the most serious symptoms.

What the public needs to know:

  • Follow advice from public health officials, including social distancing (avoiding large groups of people — the CDC currently recommending canceling or postponing events of 50 people or more). Also take common steps like washing your hands for 20 seconds, not touching your face, staying home when you are sick, coughing or sneezing into an elbow or a tissue and throwing it away immediately. Check out missoula.co/cvirus for more information.
  • If you are sick, stay home and manage symptoms as you would any cold. Wipe down all “high-touch” surfaces daily (phones, counters, keyboards, doorknobs, etc.), try to use a separate bathroom from the rest of the family and avoid close contact with family members and pets.
  • If your symptoms become worse (fever, difficulty breathing and/or a cough), contact one of the focused screening centers listed above. Please note that the health department is not a focused screening center.
  • Wearing medical masks when not indicated is an unnecessary cost, could deprive access for medical providers and healthcare workers, and provide a false sense of security that can lead to neglecting other essential measures, such as hand hygiene practices.
  • The Missoula City-County Health Department hotline is available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday to answer any questions or concerns. Call 406-258-INFO (4636).
  • Most cases of COVID-19 will not need emergency care or hospitalization.

Steps to take if you are well:

  • Practice social distancing. Avoid large groups, which includes restaurants, concerts and other public gatherings.
  • Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your face.
  • Wipe down all “high-touch” surfaces daily (phones, counters, keyboards, doorknobs, etc.).
  • Continue to see your medical provider for your regularly scheduled visits to address all other health care needs. Please do not neglect your existing needs.
  • If you are otherwise healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected COVID-19 or if you show symptoms of COVID-19.

Steps to take if you develop upper respiratory symptoms:

  • Stay home when you are sick and manage symptoms as you would any cold.
  • Try to use a separate bathroom from the rest of the family and avoid close, prolonged contact with family members and pets.
  • Cough or sneeze into an elbow or a tissue and throw it away immediately.
  • If you have a mask or handkerchief available to you and must go out in public, please wear the mask while you are away from your home.
  • Call your medical provider before coming in to be seen.

Other Missoula healthcare resources include:

Community Medical Center: Call the complementary 24/7 Nurse on Call for symptom evaluation, 406-327-4770. Patients with symptoms should call in advance of visiting the hospital or any clinic.

Partnership Health Center: Patients with symptoms should call the main line at 406-258-4789 before visiting a PHC site.

Providence Clinics – Call your primary care clinic for symptom evaluation. After hours/weekends, call the main clinic number or 1-855-PMG-TEAM (1-855-764-8326) for nurse on call.

Western Montana Clinic – Call your primary care provider first 406-721-5600 before arriving for symptomatic evaluation.

Cost Care – Call the clinic at 406-728-5841 before arriving for evaluation.

With the threat of a new illness in our state that could cause a surge of patients, we need the help of everyone to keep our most sensitive populations safe. Please be diligent with social distancing, washing hands, staying home when sick and coughing and sneezing into an elbow or tissue.

Additional information about the coronavirus is available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, the Montana Department of Health and Human Services website and the Missoula City County Health Department website.