Missoula County bars and restaurants reopening

Bar closures.jpg
Posted at 1:05 PM, May 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-04 20:50:36-04

MISSOULA — Gov. Steve Bullock’s directive that limited restaurants and bars to take out or delivery service has now expired.

Food and beverage establishments can reopen for dine-in service with COVID-19 protections in place, as outlined in the governor’s reopening plan.

“The timing for the next step is actually pretty good,” said Cindy Farr, Incident Commander with the health department’s COVID-19 response. “We’re at a very different place than we were a week or week and a half ago.”

Missoula’s COVID-19 case numbers have held steady over the last week, and active cases have been at zero for several days. The Missoula City-County Health Department notes that the numbers -- along with the department’s ability to test more widely -- signals that it is time to start taking steps forward.

“As we’ve said before, this has to be a gradual process. We have to keep our eyes on the numbers and evaluate things in two-week intervals based on the virus’s incubation period,” said Farr. “However, there are some things we can do now, to maintain social distancing in some of these businesses, to keep cases down.”

Food and beverage businesses must do the following under Gov. Bullock’s directive:

  • limit capacity to 50%
  • limit tables to six people per table
  • provide at least six feet of space between groups of customers
  • remove any bar seating, and only serve at tables
  • enhance social distancing and cleaning and sanitizing measures
  • promote employee health
  • discontinue customer self-service areas
  • close by 11:30 pm.

Local health officials note that customers can help businesses by following their direction and respecting any procedures they have in place. Customers are being asked to be cooperative about flows in traffic, how to wait for tables, and being understanding about changes in service.

Farr notes that some establishments may limit the items on their menu to make reopening easier or may ask for patrons to call in advance to help them balance service with available resources. She added that customers can help restaurants by being aware of the limitations in Gov. Bullock’s reopening plan so that when they do arrive, they know what to expect.

“These businesses are also trying to keep their employees safe too. Those who work in the food and beverage industry will come in contact with many people throughout the day. Anything customers can do to help maintain distance and minimize impact would be helpful to those workers,” said Farr.

“These businesses are trying to limit the number of people in their spaces and promote social distancing so that all of us can start moving toward a new normal.”

Farr hopes that the number of cases remains low, fully expecting that Missoula may see additional cases as things move forward. The health department will continuously reassess and provide guidance.

“We aren’t asking that people don’t take precautions. Those are still important. However, with the right measures in place, we can start moving forward responsibly,” Farr said. “The food and beverage operators have been extremely cooperative and engaged throughout this process. They have been partners, every step of the way. As long as they abide by the reopening procedures, the risk to the public, while not eliminated, is reduced.”