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.”

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.

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.