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.”

Accessing Missoula County services amid COVID-19 concerns

COVID questions

UPDATE, Tuesday, April 7:

  • Justice Court is taking steps to reduce unnecessary public contact. Please review the Justice of the Peace Standing Order for details regarding court operations. Please call the court at 406-258-3470 or email jpinfo@missoulacounty.us for more information.
    • Court appearances: Do not come to court. Justice Court is currently not holding in-person appearances. All court hearings are by telephone or video.
    • Pleadings (documents to be filed with the court) may be placed in the dropbox outside the courthouse, electronically filed or mailed to the court.
    • If you do not contest the charge, most tickets can be paid by calling 406-258-3470 or online at http://citepayusa.com without seeing a judge.
    • People who received a citation to appear should call or email. You may either make an appointment to appear by phone or continue your case to a later date.

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

Apply to serve on the new Missoula Food Policy Advisory Board

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Are you interested in increasing local food security, promoting sustainable agriculture, building regional self-reliance and climate resiliency, and connecting food access programs to local, nutritious food? Then apply to serve on the Missoula Food Policy Advisory Board!

Missoula County, the City of Missoula and the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition recently partnered to establish the board, which will consist of seven voting members: three appointed by the county commissioners, two appointed by the City Council, one appointed by Missoula Mayor John Engen, and one appointed by CFAC. There also will be two alternate members who serve on the board and vote in the absence of a regular member.

“The creation of the Food Policy Advisory Board came as the result of fantastic intergovernmental cooperation and community participation,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick. “I look forward to integrating expertly designed food and farming policy recommendations into our deliberations at the Board of County Commissioners.”

The appointing bodies may consider candidates who represent or specialize in these suggested areas:

  • local agricultural producers
  • retail food outlet (specifically a retail grocery and/or local restaurant)
  • educational institutions
  • emergency food providers
  • a nongovernmental organization or researcher working in the area of health, nutrition or medical care
  • a nongovernmental organization or researcher working in the area of local food systems and/or sustainable agriculture
  • a Missoula city/county established farmer’s market
  • a food-related, non-farm business
  • the youth community and other related fields of expertise required to accomplish the purpose of the advisory board

“I look forward to the Food Policy Advisory Board supporting existing community efforts and creating systemic change, on the city and county level,” said City Council Member Heidi West, who sponsored the initiative for the city. “This board has the potential to lead to improvements for all components of the local food and agriculture network while also resulting in policy to further existing goals around health equity, climate change resiliency and zero-waste goals.”

Meetings will be held from 3:30 to 5 p.m. on the third Monday of every month at the Missoula County Administration Building. Those interested in serving on the Food Policy Advisory Board and who represent one of the areas of expertise can apply for both city and county appointments online at or at the Commissioners’ Office at 199 W. Pine St. The deadline for all applications is Saturday, March 28.

Missoula County commissioners to consider placing countywide gas tax on primary ballot

Deschamps Lane
Deschamps Lane west of Missoula. Missoula County commissioners are seeking public comment as they consider adopting a resolution to place a countywide gas tax on the June 2 primary election ballot. Voters would ultimately decide whether to enact the 2 cent per gallon tax, revenue from which would fund road maintenance and improvements.

Missoula County commissioners are seeking public comment as they consider adopting a resolution to place a countywide gas tax on the June 2 primary election ballot. Missoula County voters would ultimately decide whether to enact the 2 cent per gallon tax, revenue from which would fund road maintenance and improvements.

The first public hearing on the issue will be at the commissioners’ public meeting at 2 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27, in the Sophie Moiese Room at the Missoula County Courthouse. The board will take constituent comments until the public meeting at 2 p.m. Thursday, March 5, when they will vote on whether to adopt the resolution.

In addition to attending the meetings, the public can submit comment by calling 406-258-4877 or emailing bcc@missoulacounty.us.

If adopted, commissioners will sign the resolution at a special administrative public meeting at 3 p.m. Monday, March 9, in Administration Building Room 206 so it can be delivered to the Elections Office by the 5 p.m. filing deadline.

In an effort to pursue revenue sources beyond increasing property taxes, Commissioner Josh Slotnick has worked on this initiative with the City of Missoula and a recently formed local advocacy group over the past several months. Figures estimated by staff indicate a 2-cent per gallon tax would generate an estimated $1.1 million, which would be split equally between Missoula County and the City of Missoula to pay for construction, reconstruction, maintenance and repair of public roads. Estimates show that non-residents visiting the county would generate around $400,000 of the total revenue.

Montana Code Annotated 7-14-301 through 7-14-304 gives county commissioners authority to adopt a resolution placing a local option fuel tax on the ballot. If approved by voters, the tax must be imposed in increments of 1 cent per gallon and cannot exceed 2 cents per gallon. Revenue derived from the tax must be divided among the county and municipalities in the county according to one of the methods outlined in MCA 7-14-303. Missoula is the only incorporated municipality in Missoula County.

Missoula County to dedicate CSKT flag, Native artwork at courthouse ceremony

CSKT flag

Missoula County commissioners and members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ Tribal Council will hold a flag and artwork dedication ceremony at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 19, in the Sophie Moiese Room at the Missoula County Courthouse.

The ceremony, which is open to the public, will recognize the county and tribes’ longstanding relationship and honor that present-day Missoula County is located on the aboriginal lands that the Salish people inhabited until the U.S. government forcibly removed them to the Flathead Reservation in 1891. The southeastern edge of the reservation also overlaps with Missoula County.

Following opening remarks from Commissioner Dave Strohmaier and CSKT Tribal Council Chairwoman Shelly Fyant, Séliš-Ql̓ispé Culture Committee Director Tony Incashola will lead the dedication. Tribal drum group Yamncut will perform, and the CSKT Veterans Warrior Society will present the flag, which the tribal council gifted to the county. It will stand alongside the U.S. and Montana flags at the head of the room.

“Missoula County respects the sovereignty of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and feel it is long overdue that we honor our government-to-government relations with the tribes by displaying the Flathead Nation’s flag in the commissioners’ public hearing room,” Strohmaier said.

“This dedication is an important moment in our history,” Fyant said. “Our Tribal Council relishes the support and friendship offered by Missoula County and hopes it serves as a model statewide for improved relations between tribal governments and counties. We thrive as a community when we find ways to work together.”

Jaune Quick to See Smith artwork
A 1996 lithograph, “Survival Series: Tribe/Community,” is one of two pieces by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith currently installed in the Sophie Moiese Room at the Missoula County Courthouse. 

The ceremony also will include dedication of the artwork by Salish artist Jaune Quick-to-See Smith currently on display in the room. The two pieces, “Nature/Medicine” and “Tribe/Community,” are on loan through the Missoula Art Museum’s Art in Public Places program. MAM Executive Director Laura Millin will share insights about Smith and her work. Smith, who was born in St. Ignatius and is an enrolled CSKT member, now resides in New Mexico.

Commissioners have made it a priority in recent years to honor and foster the relationship the county has with CSKT. Leaders from the two governments meet at least once a year, and in November 2018, commissioners named their public meeting room in honor of Sophie Moiese, one of the most highly respected Salish cultural leaders of the 19th and 20th centuries.