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.

Accessing Missoula County services amid COVID-19 concerns

COVID questions

UPDATE, Tuesday, March 31:

  • Commissioners and county staff are making changes to public meetings to encourage physical distancing. All public, administrative and department meetings will be held via Microsoft Teams meetings through April. The administrative and public meetings will be recorded. Members of the public and media can call in via a Microsoft Teams meeting link or a conference phone line listed on the top of each meeting agenda. 
  • A Microsoft Teams meeting link and dial in information will be listed at the top of each meeting agenda. 
  • Once called in, participants should mute their phones or computers unless speaking to eliminate background noise. 
  • This information and the administrative and public meeting schedule are online at missoula.co/bccmeetings. MCAT will not stream the Thursday public meetings live, but the video will be uploaded to their Channel 190 after the meetings. Administrative and public meeting videos will also be uploaded to missoula.co/bccmeetings and to Missoula County’s YouTube channel.

UPDATE, Friday, March 27: 

In light of Montana Gov. Steve Bullock’s stay at home directive effective 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 28, through Friday, April 10, and in collaboration with Missoula County elected officials and department heads, changes to Missoula County’s delivery of services are outlined below.

  • County public buildings will be closed to the public through the duration of the order, effective Monday, March 30. Those buildings include the courthouse, administration building, Relationship Violence Services, the health departmentCommunity and Planning Services and Public Works.
  • Buildings that were already closed to the public will remain so, including the librarysuperintendent of schoolshistorical museumrecords center and the fairgrounds.
  • County staff considered essential will alternate work schedules and continue working remotely as much as possible to minimize contact and adhere to physical distancing directives. Essential county staff who will continue to report to work in person include incident response, law enforcement, 9-1-1 dispatchers, court staff, public health, public works, technology, financial services, commissioners and commissioners’ support, and communications. Other staff will still be available to answer questions and serve the public remotely via telephone and email and will conduct business using online resources and the U.S. Postal Service as much as possible throughout the closure.
  • Check Missoula County department webpages for more information specific to their operations and changes to services. You can also call Missoula County at 721-5700 to connect with any department and learn more about adjustments to their operations.
  • Missoula County continues to contract with vendors to provide services for public activities such as elections, utility maintenance and construction and encourages them to follow all CDC and local guidelines to ensure physical distancing.

ORIGINAL POST, Sunday, March 15: 

With confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our community, Missoula County is encouraging the public to practice social distancing, i.e. limiting exposure to large groups in confined spaces. Many county departments have closed their facilities to the public or have altered service delivery in other ways to help stop the spread of the disease.

Below is a rundown of current service changes and how to access them online or by phone. It will be updated regularly. Thank you for your patience during this time and for taking steps to help curb the spread of the illness in our community.

Clerk and Recorder/Treasurer

The Clerk and Recorder/Treasurer is currently providing all services by phone at 406-258-4752 or online:

Title a vehicle purchased from a dealer: http://missoula.co/titlebyemail
Renew vehicle registration: http://missoula.co/registrationrenewal
Pay property taxes: http://missoula.co/paytaxes
Request vital records: http://missoula.co/vitalrecords
Record documents: http://missoula.co/erecording
Search documents: http://missoula.co/searchpublicrecords

Clerk of Court

Clerk of District Court staff will assist customers by phone at 406-258-4780 or email at  clerkofcourt@missoulacounty.us. Customers who are better served in our office will be required to follow posted guidelines.

Pro se litigants: email paperwork to clerkofcourt@missoulacounty.us (fee waived)
Apply for a marriage license: http://missoula.co/marriagelicense

Community and Planning Services

Offices closed to the public until further notice.

Planning, zoning and permit inquiries: 406-258-4642, zoner@missoulacounty.us
Other questions: 406-258-4657, caps@missoulacounty.us

County Attorney’s Office

Use customer service window and maintain 6-foot distance from other customers.

Crime Victim Advocate Program

CVA is limiting in-person services to 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Services will be provided at the front window, one person at a time. If someone is currently being helped, please wait outside. Please call or email for assistance if you can. Advocates are available over the phone and email all day. 

Phone: 406-258-3830
Email: cva@missoulacounty.us
Website: https://www.missoulacounty.us/cva

Anyone in an emergency situation should call 9-1-1. Additionally, the YWCA of Missoula has a 24/7 Crisis Line: 406-542-1944.

District Court

District Court* judges have issued distributed an administrative order regarding court functions.

*District Court is a function of state government

Elections Office

The Elections Office is open to public but requests that voters use the drop box outside to return voter registration forms, absentee ballot applications and other documents, excluding ballots. The office requests that no more than two people are inside the office at a time. The office is encouraging all voters to register to vote by mail. The office will mail fliers to all polling place voters with an absentee ballot application that they can return by mail, postage paid.

Access forms online: www.missoulavotes.com 

Environmental Health

Information Desk is temporarily closed, but staff can answer questions by phone or email.

Call: 406-258-4755
Email: envhealth@missoulacounty.us

Those showing no symptoms of illness (especially coughing, fever or shortness of breath) can still come into the office to drop off or pick up water bottles, to drop off applications, etc. Front desk staff will maintain the social distancing practice of 6 feet separation between themselves and the customer.

Sanitarians will still do site evaluations, groundwater monitoring, complaint investigations, sanitation application reviews, site visits, building and zoning permit signoffs and will issue and inspect well and septic permits.  On-site inspectors will maintain the 6-foot social distancing separation.

GIS Department

Access services online:

Property Information System: http://missoula.co/propertyinfo
Address assignment: http://missoula.co/addressing
Road naming: http://missoula.co/roadnaming
Online map viewers: http://missoula.co/onlinemaps
GIS data downloads: http://missoula.co/datadownloads
Download maps: http://missoula.co/downloadmaps
Land records research: https://gis.missoulacounty.us/Research

Historical Museum at Fort Missoula

Closed until at least Monday, March 30. All events through May 3 postponed.

Justice Court

Residents should not come to the courthouse. Call the court at 406-258-3470 or email jpinfo@missoulacounty.us to address all issues.

Missoula Fairgrounds

All public gathering and events on the Fairgrounds, including at the ice rinks and election judge training, are canceled or postponed until after Monday, March 30. The Fairgrounds office also will be closed until March 30, with staff working remotely. Email fairgrounds@missoulacounty.us.

Missoula Public Library

Closed until further notice. Starting Thursday, March 19, lending services will end until further notice. Items cannot be returned during closure. The library will extend hold periods and waive overdue fines.

Updates and access to the digital collection: https://www.missoulapubliclibrary.org/

Partnership Health Center

Changes to the downtown clinic (Creamery Building):

  • If you have a cough, fever, or shortness of breath, we ask that you call our main line, 406-258-4789, before visiting one of our facilities.
  • All patients and visitors will be asked several questions related to COVID-19 symptoms prior to entering facilities. We ask that you please arrive at least 10 minutes early to your appointment.
  • In an effort to decrease exposure to illness, all PHC group meetings are being postponed.  If you participate in a PHC meeting or group, we will reach out to you directly with more specific information.
  • Our Patient-Family Advisory Council gathers have been postponed until further notice.
  • Our Clothing Closet will be closed until further notice.
  • Missoula Aging services appointments at Partnership Health Center are now canceled, with opportunities for phone calls as needed. Please call 406-258-4519 with any questions or concerns.
  • If you currently participate in behavioral health services, please note that all visits have moved to phone check-ins until further notice.
  • Dental services at our main facility (Creamery Building) will continue as normal until further notice. If you have a cough, fever, or shortness of breath, please call 406-258-4185 to reschedule.
  • Pharmacy services will continue as normal until further notice.

Changes at satellite clinics:

  • Western Montana Mental Health Center PHC Satellite Clinic: Closed until further notice.
  • Poverello Center Satellite Clinic: Will have limited staff and will is coordinating closely with our Creamery clinic.
  • Superior: Dental services postponed until further notice.  Behavioral health visits will be postponed or conducted remotely.  PHC will contact patients to discuss rescheduling or remote visit options.
  • Seeley Swan Medical Center: Will continue operating as normal. If you have a cough, fever or shortness of breath, please call 406-677-2277 before visiting. All patients and visitors will be asked several questions related to COVID-19 symptoms prior to entering facilities. We ask that you please arrive at least 10 minutes early to your appointment.
  • Lowell School Satellite Clinic: Closed until further notice.

 

Public Works

The Public Works facilities in Missoula and Seeley Lake will be closed to the public until further notice. Customers can access an exterior drop box outside of the Missoula office for building permit submittals and issuances.

The Building Division will only perform exterior or non-occupied structure inspections at this time. Emergency interior inspections will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Apply for a construction-related permit online: www.missoulacounty.build

Sheriff’s Office

The Sheriff’s Office has discontinued all nonessential/non-emergent Sheriff’s Office business. These programs include:

  • Concealed weapons permits
  • Citizen Observer Program
  • Catering permits
  • Fingerprinting
  • All other office-related duties, determined on a case-by-case basis

The office reception desk will be staffed during regular business hours. Call 406-258-4810.

Weed District and Extension

The Weed District and Extension office is closed to the public until further notice. Residents can access information and services via email, phone and the website.

4-H: 406-258-4201
Family Consumer Science: 406-258-4206
Plant Clinic: 406-258-4213
General Weed District Questions: 406-258-4217
Weed District Grants: 406-258-4219
Re-vegetation Permits: 406-258-4218

Missoula health officials clarify COVID-19 testing procedures

Reduce coronavirus WHO

Missoula City-County Health Department and local hospitals have received several calls regarding testing for COVID-19.

“There is a lot of confusion among the public about testing for COVID-19, mostly around the expectation that anyone can get a test,” says Cindy Farr, incident commander for the county’s response team. “It’s not as simple as testing everyone in the community.”

One of the most significant points of confusion is how the test works. The current test is not designed to screen people for their risk of exposure to the virus. It can only diagnose someone with COVID-19 who is showing symptoms.

Another challenge with testing is the number of test kits available. While the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services received approval to start testing for COVID-19 early last week, they had access to only 200 tests for the whole state, meaning resources need to be used judiciously. For a test to be completed at the state, local health care providers work with DPHHS and take into account a person’s likelihood of exposure, their symptoms, the severity of those symptoms, and the exclusion of other respiratory illnesses. These criteria were set to use resources effectively and ensure that those with a higher likelihood of having COVID-19 are diagnosed quickly.

Soon, a private lab will be able to process diagnostic tests for Missoula. While this is welcome news, that doesn’t change the nature of the test, as it is still a diagnostic test and not used for screening. It also does not increase the supply of tests, and health care providers will still need to assess the likelihood of COVID-19 before testing. While more testing is a good thing, Montana does not want labs overwhelmed with tests from unlikely candidates, resulting in delays diagnosing those who may have the disease.

“Hopefully, more resources will become available, but we need to work effectively with the resources we currently have,” Farr says. “Right now, the best tool we have in our community is prevention.”

The health department recommends the following precautions:

  • Wash your hands
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Disinfect surfaces frequently
  • If you do exhibit symptoms of fever, coughing or shortness of breath, call your medical provider first and stay home except when seeking medical treatment

The public can call 406-258-INFO with questions or concerns about COVID-19. Local information also is online at http://missoula.co/cvirus.

Missoula City-County Health Department asks travelers to call as coronavirus preparations continue

Coronavirus

The Missoula City-County Health Department’s infectious disease and emergency preparedness teams, along with local and state partners, are continuing to monitor the COVID-19 situation overseas and in the United States and have created a response plan should any cases be confirmed in Missoula County.

“We’ve increased communications with the state, local hospitals, clinics and emergency responders, and we also designated staff to monitor information daily. Our team also created targeted messaging for groups, such as medical providers,” said Cindy Farr, incident commander for the county’s response team. “We’ve used preparedness exercises to test our response plan and are taking proactive steps to make sure the public has the necessary information.”

The department also urges Missoula County residents who have traveled to China, Italy, South Korea, Japan or Iran to contact them as soon as possible, as these countries have experienced sustained or widespread COVID-19 cases.

“If anyone has recently visited the countries of concern, we need them to talk to the health department,” Farr said. “We want to make sure they don’t develop symptoms.”

People who have traveled to the affected countries in the last 14 days should call 406-258-3896.

While Missoula County currently does not have any cases, the health department encourages the public to take the following basic precautions:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are ill.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Frequently clean and disinfect surfaces with regular household cleaners.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the restroom, before eating, and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
  • If soap and water are not available for handwashing, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Do not travel to areas identified as being at elevated risk for the virus.

The department also encourages people to watch for symptoms such as a fever greater than 100.4 F, coughing, and difficulty breathing. Those who do develop symptoms should call their medical provider and stay home except to receive medical treatment. Farr also said that despite the hype, wearing masks is not a recommended way to prevent the disease.

“We need the public’s help at this point,” Farr said. “There’s no cause for panic, but being aware and increasing basic things like hand washing can go a long way,” Farr said.

The county also is ramping up communications and collaboration with state and local partners as the situation unfolds. Partners include the City of Missoula, the University of Montana, Missoula County Public Schools, Providence St. Patrick Hospital, Community Medical Center, Partnership Health Center and the Montana Department of Health and Human Services.

Residents with questions or concerns can call 406-258-INFO from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Accurate, updated information also is available at missoula.co/cvirus. 

Missoula-area zoning update aims to reflect community values

Zoning map

Zoning determines what kind of development can take place in an area, and values-based zoning helps create a community that’s a great place for everyone to live, work and play. That’s why Missoula County Community and Planning Services has embarked on a year-long mission to update the zoning code for the Missoula urban area outside the city limits.

Over the past several months, county staff met with residents and stakeholders − including community and neighborhood council members, developers, real estate agents, architects and designers − to gather input about the current zoning code and how it can improve. The resulting zoning audit is available now and includes six core recommendations:

1. Align zoning with community values

In some areas, residents see the value of being able to run a business, like cabinet making or an art studio, from their home, and they appreciate a “live-make” zoning option. Other communities prefer a more defined separation between residential and commercial. To gauge opinions on this and other community values ahead of the zoning update, Missoula County completed the Missoula Area Mapping Project to find out how people would like to see those values reflected in future growth and development. This results of the MAMP, which was also incorporated into the Missoula County Growth Policy, will heavily inform the zoning update.

Zoning 4
Commissioner Juanita Vero looks at a map of the areas in Missoula County where the zoning code will be updated.

2. Correct zoning misalignment between city and county

As more people move to the area, it’s only a matter of time before emerging neighborhoods need to connect to city infrastructure, such as water and sewer lines, to keep up with the demands of a growing population. Better alignment with the city zoning code will decrease roadblocks along the way.

3. Incentivize density, where appropriate

With home prices continuing to rise in the Missoula area, it’s more important than ever that zoning allow for increased density and more housing choices, especially where existing infrastructure can accommodate it, so all Missoulians can access homes they can afford.

4. Overhaul design standards to promote quality development

Creating a place where everyone can thrive means encouraging development of complete communities that emphasize pedestrian infrastructure, blend of housing types, agricultural uses, parks and trails, and sustainable development, all while keeping emerging trends, such as energy efficiency and 5G infrastructure, in mind.

Zoning 5
Updated design standards can promote quality development.

5. Update code reorganization and formatting

When a zoning code is clear and easy to read, it makes the process to follow it much smoother. The names of zoning districts in the updated code will accurately reflect intent, character and use, and definitions will be consolidated, updated or, when outdated, eliminated entirely. Graphics and tables will be used in place of text, when possible.

6. Create unified code and enhance enforcement tools

A zoning code is only as good as the enforcement of it. The zoning audit calls for establishing a streamlined enforcement process that encourages collaboration among county departments, as well as the possibility of adding a dedicated enforcement officer who can focus on the front-end portion of the process.

Want to take a deeper dive into the world of zoning? Check out the full zoning audit online.

Want to share your perspective? You can submit your comments online or by calling 406-258-4657. The process to update the zoning code is expected to last through June.

Want to better understand zoning and how it can affect you? Watch “An Introduction to Zoning” on the project website.

How do we get Missoula’s seatbelt-use rate to 100 percent?

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Photo: Pixabay

The results are in: After observing more than 5,000 vehicles in Missoula, officials with the Missoula City-County Health Department report that they saw about 92% of occupants wearing their seatbelts.

Schmidty HeadShot (002)
Steve Schmidt

Steve Schmidt, senior community health specialist and Buckle Up Montana coalition coordinator for Missoula County, spent a week observing vehicles at 11 different locations in Missoula at the end of September. He says that of the 5,262 vehicles he saw, he observed 4,844 with occupants wearing their seatbelts.

This is up significantly from the 2018 survey, when only about 76% of Missoulians were observed wearing seatbelts. In 2017, the rate was 81%. This year also saw a considerable increase in seatbelt use among pickup truck occupants, from about 71% in 2018 to 86% in 2019.

Though 8% of Missoulians are still not wearing seatbelts, today’s numbers stand in stark contrast to those collected in 1987, when only 34% of vehicle occupants were observed wearing seatbelts, a spike apparently so dramatic for that year that it prompted the surveyor to draw a smiley face on the report.

Seatbelt use, then and now

So why are 8% of Missoulians still not wearing their seatbelts? And why is that rate even higher for pickup truck occupants? Though it’s hard to pinpoint the exact reasons, Schmidt says a variety of factors could be at play.

“I’ve occasionally come across individuals who have indicated that they have known someone who died in a crash and they were wearing their seatbelt,” he says. The seatbelt doesn’t guarantee survival − it just greatly increases the chances. And when your world is being flipped upside down, I would bet on the numbers.”

Schmidt also says he’s heard that some people who drive larger vehicles, like pickups, feel safer and don’t believe they need seatbelts. That’s why public health officials have focused over the past few years on the “Buckle Up in Your Truck” campaign. He’s happy the rate among pickup occupants is increasing, but there’s still work to do.

2019 Missoula Seatbelt Use Survey

“I believe that educating young drivers will have an impact on older drivers,” Schmidt says. “When my kids had their learner’s permits, they actually ensured I was wearing my seatbelt before they moved the vehicle. It was nice to see, and it appears to be more normalized. There doesn’t seem to be a ‘coolness factor’ in play. It’s just what we do.”

The education on seatbelt use also need to evolve, Schmidt says. The “scare tactics” of the past doesn’t seem to be as effective, and he’d like to approach seatbelt use from a different angle.

“For me, it’s about control,” he says. “We all like to be in control, and the best way to stay in control of a vehicle is to remain behind the wheel of that vehicle. A seat belt will help keep you behind the wheel, where you have the ability to control the vehicle.”

Education is just one component of increasing usage. Proactive legislation could also increase the rate. Montana is currently one of 16 states that does not have a primary seatbelt law, meaning law enforcement cannot stop someone solely for not wearing a seatbelt. They can only cite someone for not wearing a seatbelt if they initially pulled them over on suspicion of another violation.

“States with primary seatbelt laws have a higher percentage of people who wear seatbelts,” Schmidt says. “I’d love to see and work for a primary seatbelt law here in Montana.”

You can learn more about the work the Buckle Up Coalition is doing to increase seatbelt usage by visiting their website and Facebook page.

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