Members of Missoula’s local government and health officials declared new COVID-19 restrictions after cases continued to rise in the county. The main restrictions limit capacity in businesses and events, and urge people to stay home. Restrictions start at 8 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 29.
“Long term care facilities in some cases in Missoula County [are] nearly overrun with COVID. Many of you have done the right things over these many months. But if we don't redouble our efforts, we can skip over into a crisis that can make the difficult decisions that led to these restrictions seem critical,” mayor John Engen said in a press conference. “I'm asking you to do your best to stay home as much as you can.”
COVID-19 surged in Missoula County in the last month, with over 600 active cases in Missoula County, and 29 hospitalizations as of Oct. 27. The county reported 14 total deaths due to the virus since the start of the pandemic, 10 of which have happened since Oct. 9
Montana as a state exceeded 300 COVID-19 deaths this week, 122 of them having occurred in October alone.
The health department announced crowd sizes for events without masks or social distancing will be limited to 25 people, compared to the 50 allowed previously. Any group size over that must submit a written mitigation plan to the health department, and a group of 250 or more must have that plan approved.
There are two exceptions to the limit of group sizes: classrooms and voting precincts. Health department director Ellen Leahy said schools already have strong mitigation plans, and most of the cases associated with Missoula County Public Schools and the University of Montana are from outside of structured class.
“Organized settings for as long as we can keep them open actually do bring protection,” Leahy said. “We've seen that in our schools, we've seen that in our University, so we didn't want to move so tight at this point.”
The University of Montana did not respond to a request for comment from the Kaimin by the time of this article’s publication.
Businesses will have to limit people to 50% capacity indoors. This metric is based on how many customers come in normally, not what the fire marshall indicates as the capacity of the building, which is likely higher.
Leahy said places of worship might fall under this category, but had to finalize the issue with city attorney Jim Nugent before making the final call. Places of worship could also fall under group events.
Bars and any other place where drinks are being sold must stop selling by 10 p.m. Many local bars in Missoula, like Stockman’s and the Missoula Club, were already shut down this week for repeated violations of social distancing and mask mandates.
The last health department restriction is a voluntary stay-at-home order. Missoula County already ordered people to stay at home between the months of March and June this year, but as a county, it cannot implement a mandatory order while nearby counties are not.
Instead, officials asked people to stay home if they can. Mayor Engen said the best way to stop the spread of the virus is for people to not leave their houses.
Group sizes will be limited to 25 people, any more must have a written mitigation plan submitted to the health department.*
- Businesses must reduce capacity by 50%.*
- Bars and restaurants must stop selling alcohol by 10 p.m.
- Missoula County encourages a voluntary stay-at-home order.
*Exceptions include election and voting places, schools, and healthcare centers.
More about COVID-19 at the University of Montana: