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One year in, Missoula health officials reflect on COVID-19 challenges

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Posted at 9:12 AM, Mar 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-15 11:19:20-04

MISSOULA — On March 15, 2020, as members of the media anxiously waited with notepads and cameras, Missoula County health officials announced they had activated the Incident Command Team. COVID-19 was spreading.

On that day, Incident Commander Cindy Farr addressed the media, saying, “we know that we’re not going to stop this from coming to Missoula County, that’s why it’s called a pandemic.”

That Sunday morning, we first heard the terms “flatten the curve,” and “slow the spread.” “Unprecedented times,” had finally come knocking, and the cases came to Montana before the answers did.

Even our health experts admit they didn’t know what they didn’t know. “I would have never, a year ago, imagined that we would live in a world where you can't leave and go out in public without wearing a mask,” said Farr.

Over the course of 12 months, the Missoula City-County Health Department came to the forefront as one of the strictest counties in the state for enforcing mandates, but Farr stands firm in her department’s decisions.

“We had to make some really tough decisions over the past year, but in the end, what I think about are the lives that were saved. Yes, we have lost people in our county to COVID, but we were also doing everything that we could to ensure that we could save as many lives as we could, and I feel really good about that, and, you know, it makes it worth the threats and the lawsuits,” Farr told MTN News.

Considering all that’s changed, many wonder if we’ll ever return to life as it was before COVID.

“The unknowns are now really more related to immunity and whether we are really going to be able to achieve herd immunity, or if we're just gonna have to be aware that COVID could be a low-level transmission forever.”

In the meantime, all we can do is wait for the research to uncover answers.

“While we’ve learned a lot over the last year, there's still so much more that we need to learn at this point,” said Farr.

With less than a quarter of Missoula County’s population vaccinated right now -- the masks stay on, the rules remain, and the pandemic plays a part in our everyday lives.

“We can’t call it a win when we're still in the third quarter,” said Farr.

Despite the long road ahead, Farr hopes the community sees how far we’ve come in the last year.

From desperately waiting for testing supplies, hospitals reaching capacity, and a community on lockdown, Missoula County has made progress and will continue to move forward as vaccines roll out.