As businesses are reopening in Missoula, leaders discussed the challenges and opportunities they face moving forward.
Missoula County has not had any new COVID-19 cases in two weeks, and there have been zero cases for almost one week.
"Now is the time to mitigate risk, exercise personal responsibility, and go take part in our local economy," Josh Slotnick, Missoula County commissioner, said.
The Missoula City-County Health Department says it plans to re-evaluate some of their earlier orders later this week, including possibly allowing salons to re-open.
"Appreciate that there still is risk, we are not at the end of this pandemic by any means," Missoula County COVID-19 incident commander Cindy Farr added. "Appreciate that there still is risk, we are not at the end of this pandemic by any means."
Missoula leaders say reopening may make it seem like the worst is over, but the pandemic is still ongoing. Officials say businesses that have reopened are being safe, and following health guidelines.
"We have a shared responsibility, as residents of this place we love, to take care of one another," Missoula mayor John Engen said.
Engen and Slotnick share cautiously optimistic outlooks.
"Business owners who are following the rules, and individuals, follow those rules, and then go forth, open up, let's celebrate," Slotnick said.
But working through the pandemic hasn't been easy on everyone.
“We are going to lose businesses in our community, and I think what we've seen already is probably just the start of what we're going to see to come," Missoula Economic Partnership executive director Grant Kier said.
Kier says the Downtown Missoula Partnership is working to provide small loans to struggling businesses.
"We really need people to think about how they spend their money, think about how they behave in public, and give our businesses the best shot by taking each step forward as wisely and effectively as possible," he added.
There is also money available in the County COVID-19 relief fund. Kier says there is a list of resources on the MEP website. There are still loans available through the Small Business Administration, Paycheck Protection Program, and state grants.