MISSOULA — A decision to close bars and limit restaurant services came in the form of a directive issued by the Missoula City-County Health Department on March 16.
“I thought it was a knee jerk reaction, I thought it was too much too late,” Rhino co-owner Kevin Head told MTN News.
The local health department states they’re following US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance and trying to promote social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite their intentions, the decision has sent panic through the service industry.
“Because of this reaction, now you’re also dealing with a vulnerable group of workers in the service industry,” said Head, “Many who depend on their checks each week and live paycheck to paycheck.”
China Garden Restaurant Chau Pham owner echoed Head’s sentiments, "this is a hard time for all of us...for all the small businesses in town.”
While bars will close completely, and dine-in services are a no-go, restaurants can still offer take-out, delivery, and drive-through services.
However, every day that those restaurants and bars sit empty, is another day of worry for the employees who rely on tips to meet their financial needs.
“So much of what our folks depend on are tips, and tips mean so much," Head said.
Pham -- who has run the China Garden for 37 years -- is also worried about her employees and is asking for the community’s support.
By continuing to buy take-out, her employees have job security. “For 37 years my customers have been supporting me,” she said.
"They’re just like my friends and family. We love them and they love us, but with this kind of virus we want everyone to stay home and stay safe," Pham added.
As for local pubs, there’s not much you can do until they’re able to open their doors again.
“When the restaurants and bars open again, please come out and support them. We need that help,” said Head.
The Missoula City-County Health Department plans to lift the restrictions on March 24.
Elsewhere in Montana, Butte health officials took emergency action to close all bars, breweries, distilleries, casinos, restaurants, and gyms until March 23.
Restrictions on bars, brewpubs, wineries, casinos, and restaurants are also in place in Gallatin County until March. 24.
All bars, restaurants, brew pubs, wineries and casinos in Yellowstone County have also been closed for one week in an effort to minimize the spread of the coronavirus.