Missoula County to Remain in Vaccine Phase 1b Next Week

To allow more residents in Phase 1b the opportunity to get vaccinated, Missoula County will remain in that phase for at least the next week before moving into Phase 1b+.  

As of March 1, 98% of Missoula County’s state-allocated vaccines have been administered, with an operational gap between when vaccine is received and when clinics are held accounting for the remaining 2%. Despite the county’s high administration rate, approximately 85% of county residents who qualify for Phase 1b have yet to receive their first dose of vaccine. The Vaccine Coordination Team and health officials want to provide those vulnerable residents extra time to sign up for a vaccination before opening access up to the broader criteria included in Phase 1b+. The team hopes to announce next week a firm date to move into Phase 1b+.   

“We appreciate that the state guidance on Phase 1b+ still allows local officials to look at data for their communities and use that to inform their decisions,” said Office of Emergency Management Director Adriane Beck, who heads up the Vaccine Coordination Team. “We know a lot of people are eager to get vaccinated, and we’re confident we’ll keep pace with the increasing supply coming into Missoula County and that we’ll be able to get shots in the arms of everyone who wants a vaccine.”  

All public clinics will be open to Missoula County residents in Phase 1b, and residents can find information on when appointments are available at covid19.missoula.co or by calling 406-258-INFO (4636) from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day Depending on their patient base, individual providers and pharmacies may choose to move into the state’s Phase 1b+ sooner.  

Also, following President Joe Biden’s directive this week, many local pharmacies will offer portions of their federally allocated vaccines to educators and childcare workers. This includes a partnership between Granite Pharmacy in Missoula, Missoula County Public Schools and the Vaccine Coordination Team to hold mass vaccination clinics for about 1,000 MCPS educators. Other local pharmacies are also opening appointments to educators, who can visit the Vaccine Information page at covid19.missoula.co for more information.  

As of Monday, March 8, the following Missoula County residents will be eligible to sign up for vaccination:  

  • People 70 and older 
  • Native Americans ages 16-69 
  • People of color ages 16-69 
  • People ages 16-69 with one or more of the following health conditions: cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD, Down syndrome, heart conditions, immunocompromised from organ transplant, severe obesity (BMI 40 or higher), sickle cell disease, and Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes 
  • Educators and childcare workers (at participating pharmacies only) 

The Missoula County COVID-19 Vaccine Coordination Team is managed by the Western Montana All Hazard Incident Management Team under the Office of Emergency Management. The team formed in January at the request of the Missoula County commissioners and the mayor of Missoula to coordinate the distribution of vaccine in Missoula County. The team aims to reduce public anxiety by providing timely, accurate information and to identify and address barriers to administering the vaccine to all who wish to receive it. 

Vaccine Website, Call Center Launch as County Starts Transition to Phase 1b

As COVID-19 vaccine providers in Missoula County start the transition to vaccinating individuals in Phase 1b, residents can now find up-to-date information about vaccine options by visiting https://covid19.missoula.co/ online or calling 258-INFO if they do not have Internet access.

The Missoula County Vaccine Information page on the website contains information on vaccine providers in the county, including how, when and where each provider is administering the vaccine. Residents with regular healthcare providers should look for that provider’s information on the website. People who do not have regular providers should watch the page for announcements of public clinics, which will begin as more supply of vaccine becomes available. Public clinics will be held soon at the former Lucky’s Market on the south side of Southgate Mall and at the University of Montana. Watch the vaccine information website at https://covid19.missoula.co/ for details on dates and how to register in the next few days.

While vaccine supply will ultimately determine the pace, providers will generally move into Phase 1b by the end of the month. Phase 1b includes residents 70 and older; American Indians and people of color 16 and older, as they may be at elevated risk for COVID-19; and those ages 16-69 with qualifying health conditions. Missoula County residents who meet the 1a criteria but who did not get vaccinated can still be vaccinated as providers move through the phases.  

The state allocation of vaccine to each provider will inform each provider’s strategies in scheduling appointments for vaccine administration. Different providers are managing their patients differently and at different speeds as vaccine supply changes for each provider. As they move through the phases, many providers are contacting their eligible patients who meet the current Phase 1b criteria by mail, telephone, e-mail and established website communication platforms. Residents should not call local hospitals or their providers to receive vaccine doses until they have been instructed to by their healthcare provider. Residents should watch the website to track vaccine availability across Missoula County and continue to monitor where the “line” is and where their places are in it.

The website will also link to a map of vaccine providers and a dashboard that tracks vaccination progress in the county.

For those without Internet access, staff at the vaccine call center can assist with information and scheduling for providers with online registration. Residents will be able to access this call center by calling 406-258-INFO and following the prompts. For medical (non-logistical) questions about the vaccine, visit the Missoula City-County Health Department’s Frequently Asked COVID-19 Vaccine Questions page at https://www.missoulainfo.com/vaccine-faq. This information is also available through the call center for those without Internet access.

Residents can help providers by refraining from calling them directly and using the website instead.

Missoula County has 26 vaccine providers registered to administer the COVID-19 vaccine; however, the limiting factor is the availability of vaccine. Missoula City-County Health Department staff recently learned from state health administrators that Missoula County can expect to receive approximately 1,500 first doses each week for the foreseeable future, based on the state’s entire allocation of approximately 13,000 first doses. Missoula County will likely have nearly 40,000 people expecting to receive the vaccine in Phase 1b. The vaccine scarcity is not unique to Missoula County or to Montana; the shortage is nationwide. Health department leaders continue to advocate for more doses at every opportunity. While we wait, they encourage people to continue to take the standard precautions against transmission of the virus: masking, social distancing, washing hands and keeping their social circles small.

The Missoula County COVID-19 Vaccine Coordination Team is managed by the Western Montana All Hazard Incident Management Team under the Office of Emergency Management. The team formed recently at the request of the Missoula County commissioners and the mayor of Missoula to coordinate the distribution of vaccine in Missoula County. The team aims to reduce public anxiety by providing timely, accurate information and to identify and address barriers to administering the vaccine to all who wish to receive it.

“A primary goal of the vaccination coordination team is to inform the public about vaccine availability in Missoula County and to help direct those eligible residents to a vaccination provider,” said Adriane Beck, director of the Missoula County Office of Emergency Management. “Vaccine supply is extremely limited right now, and not every provider will be receiving vaccine. We thank the public for their engagement and encourage people to monitor the website for changing information as supply increases.”

Missoula County, City launch COVID-19 Vaccination Coordination Team

Missoula County’s Office of Emergency Management, in partnership with the City of Missoula, will stand up a Type 3 Incident Management Team to coordinate COVID-19 vaccine administration throughout the county.

OEM Director Adriane Beck will oversee the efforts of the Missoula County Vaccination Coordination Team, which will open lines of coordination among all vaccine providers to ensure accurate and timely information and data exchange, coordinated vaccine efforts, sharing of resources where appropriate, and planning for each of the phases of vaccination in Missoula County. This team will remain in place until COVID-19 vaccine is widely available in Missoula County to any resident 16 or older who wants to get vaccinated.

Employing the incident management structure, more typically used in Missoula County to respond to natural disasters like wildfires and flooding, will provide the command and management infrastructure to coordinate logistical, fiscal, planning, operational, safety and other aspects of a large-scale vaccination effort among the many entities that will administer the vaccine as we move into Phase 1B.

“As the county enters Phase 1B and beyond, the team will develop strategies for identifying and connecting eligible citizens with a vaccine provider for administration as well as coordinate efforts around mass vaccination events across Missoula County,” Beck said.

The IMT will help centralize efforts among local hospitals and other healthcare providers, the University of Montana, the health department, pharmacies and other vaccine providers.

“We ask for the public’s patience as we develop the strategies necessary to ensure all those Missoula County residents who meet the phase 1B criteria can be connected to a vaccine provider in the quickest, most efficient manner possible,” Beck said. “We also ask for our citizens to be active participants in this process, pay attention to prioritization criteria, be informed about where you personally fall into the categorization and be ready to receive the vaccine when it is time. Much like boarding an airplane, the process goes much quicker when those waiting to board are ready to get in line when their section is called.”

Once these strategies are finalized, communicating up-to-date, accurate information about them to the public will be crucial. The Missoula City-County Joint Information Center, which consists of the multiple government agencies and community organizations responding to COVID-19, will help ensure timely information is widely distributed through the news media, social media, online at covid19.missoula.co and other channels.

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.”