MISSOULA — Week number 61 of the pandemic and the story is changing.
You can feel it happening as you take off your mask when you’re walking down the street, or as you hug the relative you haven’t seen in a year.
These changes are evident in Missoula County where health officials switch their focus from restrictions to vaccinations.
“Up until vaccinations we had to rely completely on those mitigation measures, all of them, and now we're trying to shift over to protecting the population with vaccination,” said Health Officer Ellen Leahy
She and her team are going out of their way to get shots in the arms of Missoula County residents, 60% of eligible residents, to be exact.
Once the county reaches this goal of 60%, the Missoula City-County Health Board will relax the mask mandate. That could happen as early as May 11.
“As we reach certain vaccine goals and also keep our numbers of cases down...those are important parts of those goals, then restrictions and mandates begin to come off. As of today we’re pretty close to that goal."
As of Monday, May 3, Missoula County boasted that nearly 59% of eligible individuals had received at least one shot.
Additionally, exactly half of the eligible population has been fully immunized, meaning we’re well on our way to the 75% needed for herd immunity.
That’s an accomplishment worth cheering for, according to Leahy.
“This is the second week that Missoula County has been first in the state in terms of vaccine productivity,” said Leahy, “So, we are in a little bit of a horse race, if you will, with Butte, Silver Bow and Glacier County -- the Blackfeet Nation is just doing a tremendous job.
Those three counties are -- with Missoula among them -- you know, we're out there in the lead and we intend to stay there," Leahy continued.
As restrictions dwindle to recommendations, Leahy told MTN News with cautious optimism that the return to “normal” isn’t going to be a light switch -- but a light dimmer.
The Missoula City-County Health Department will hold a mobile vaccine clinic in the parking lot of Imagine Nation Brewing on Wednesday from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m.
According to Leahy, the department will be hosting more mobile clinics in Missoula County's outlying communities as well.