MISSOULA — While large and small business in Western Montana are reeling with the rapid onset of impacts from the coronavirus pandemic, Missoula City-County Health officials are urging business owners and managers to develop their own specific response plans.
In some cases, such as with Monday's order closing bars and putting limits on restaurant service, local health department officials are taking a more direct role in limiting gatherings of people as a precaution. But in all cases, the advice is to develop a voluntary approach for all types of businesses.
"But it would be good to sit down and formulate a plan to say, 'okay, what are we going to do if we do have large numbers of employees who are out sick? Do we have another way to pull another employer pool'?'" said Incident Commander Cindy Farr with the Missoula City-County Health Department.
During a Sunday press conference, health department leaders acknowledged that not everyone can do work at home. But even in cases where people must come in to a business, precautions should be taken.
"If you have the ability to help your staff practice social distancing by working from home, especially if they are in those higher risk age groups, we are definitely encouraging that employers really think about that," Farr explained. "Because those are some of the ways that we're going to slow the spread."
Slowing the spread is what the precautions are all about and with a three-way tug of war between keeping a business functional, the need for workers to make a living, and for everyone to stay healthy, there are difficult decisions to be made.
"We know that we're not going to stop this from coming to Missoula County. That's why it's called a pandemic. It is spreading," Farr said. "And the best thing that we can do is to try to slow the spread so that we can flatten the curve. So that we're not overtaxing our health care system and overtaxing our economy in a time like this."
"If we're getting a great response from voluntary and initiative, we are watching that we'll see who and what arenas we may need to do more," Missoula City-County Health Officer Ellen Leahy said.
The Missoula Downtown Association says a decision to close is up to every business, but they're making several recommendations, including limiting hours of operation, canceling larger events, eliminating cash transactions, and reducing the number of customers indoors at the same time.