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Missoula health department prepared to follow state’s Phase 2 reopening plans

Missoula City County Health Department.jpg
Posted at 1:30 PM, May 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-20 15:30:09-04

MISSOULA — The Missoula City-County Health Department on Wednesday said it was optimistic that Phase 2 of Gov. Steve Bullock’s plans to reopen the state’s economy would move forward locally with the June 1 timeline.

Bullock this week set the guidelines for the second phase, which would include boosting restaurant and bar capacity to 75% of normal occupancy, along with gyms and fitness clubs.

“The county hasn’t had a new case in almost a month, and the measured approach to reopening seems to be working,” said Cindy Farr, incident commander for the health department’s COVID-19 response.

Local health officials temporarily paused the local opening of bars and restaurants after Bullock announced his Phase 1 plans in late April, citing several active cases at the time.

But Missoula County has been free of new COVID cases for several weeks, giving health officials optimism that Missoula will be ready to meet the governor’s Phase 2 plan.

VIDEO: Missoula Co. COVID-19 daily briefing - May 20, 2020

As outlined during a news conference Tuesday, the plan allows businesses that remained closed after Phase 1 to reopen. It would also relax some social distancing and group size requirements starting June 1.

Bullock also plans to sunset the quarantine on visitors and residents arriving in Montana. Farr said the measures would take effect nearly a full coronavirus incubation period after the governor’s initial announcement.

“There’s a lot of behind the scenes that people don’t see,” Farr said. “When the governor makes an announcement, we’re learning the directive with the public. We need time to work with state partners to figure out how that language applies to a variety of businesses and figure out answers to questions that the public will likely ask.”

The health department also expressed concerns over a spike in cases in Ravalli County, which didn’t take the same precautions as Missoula at the height of the pandemic. Six new cases of the virus were reported on Tuesday alone in Ravalli County.

“A lot can change in two weeks,” said Farr. “Other counties in Montana are still seeing new cases, including Ravalli, which had eight cases identified in the last several days.”