Newly released data proves Missoula County's directives effective

Posted at 11:08 PM, Apr 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-01 01:08:25-04

MISSOULA — We’ve been instructed by Missoula County health officials for weeks to social distance, stay inside, and isolate with hopes of slowing the spread. But has it worked?

Whether you’ve worn a mask to the grocery store, skipped that visit to your grandparents, or you’ve begun the work from home routine, go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back. According to new data from the Epidemiology Situation Unit in Missoula, social distancing guidelines have proven effective.

A collaboration between the School of Public and Community Health Services at UM and the Health Department, the Epidemiology Situation Unit has been collecting data since COVID-19 emerged in Missoula County.

Postdoctoral researcher Ethan Walker presented some of their work. He said a majority of COVID-19 cases in Missoula County had symptom onset in mid-to-late March, which was prior to the time when social distancing guidelines were implemented.

Walking us through the data, Walker and his colleague, associate professor Erin Semmens, offered more encouragement. For example they said contact tracing hasn’t proven to be much of an issue.

“The majority of cases had between zero and five contacts, and so this is really good and helps to minimize the spread of COVID,” said Semmens.

Missoula City-County Health Officer Ellen Leahy echoed Semmens, saying, “I think it is a very good reflection of the stay-at-home order and the people's observation of staying at home to have that small number of contacts.”

With the positive reviews, you might be wondering why Missoula County is approaching its reopening with such hesitation, especially when compared to neighboring counties. Leahy said we have to be cautious as we’re in a more vulnerable position than others.

“We’re the second-most populated county and the home of a healthcare hub that serves a large number of Montanans,” she said.

Although we’ve been commended for slowing the spread, health experts say that doesn’t mean we stop here.

“While things are opening we know that this does not mean COVID has disappeared, and what we do and the decisions we make will matter,” said Semmens.

You can further study the Epidemiology Situation Unit’s data here.