UPDATE: 4:35 p.m. - Oct. 27, 2020
MISSOULA - New restrictions are coming to Missoula County after weeks of nonstop COVID-19 spikes.
Health professionals, business, and government leaders of Missoula County are sending one central message to the community.
“Right now, we gotta hunker down,” said Missoula County Commissioner Josh Slotnick.
Hunker down and prepare for some changes. “Rather than do a full shut down or stay at home, we are actually going to take it by a half,” said Missoula City-County Health Officer Ellen Leahy.
This means businesses that include retail, bars, and restaurants will be limited to 50% capacity, events and gatherings reduced to 25 people, no alcohol service after 10 p.m., and a voluntary stay at home order.
The new restrictions begin at 8 a.m on Thursday.
“This order will be in effect until it's revoked or revised based on our progress as a community,” Leahy said during a Tuesday news conference. “And as a community, we'll be working to lower our case count, specifically aiming for at most 25 new cases per 100,000 people for two consecutive weeks.”
Each sector represented at the health board meeting agreed that these new restrictions are necessary, but one group was particularly passionate.
The CEOs of Missoula's two hospitals pleaded with the community for help.
“You expect to -- and should expect that we are going to be here for you to take care of you when you're sick,” said Providence Montana Chief Executive Joyce Dombrouski.
But in order to let our healthcare workers do their job, we need to do ours - wash our hands, watch our distance, and wear a mask.
“The surge the last couple of weeks has been dramatic. And it's been exhausting,” Dombrouski said.
“We currently have 33 members of our team on quarantine. Ten of our RNs are out due to community spread in their family households. This has a direct effect on our ability to take care of patients,” added Community Medical Center CEO Dean French.
Right now, Missoula’s responsibility as a medical hub for western Montana is in jeopardy.
“And I just want to say it again. Please help us. Please don't overwhelm the system, and please follow the rules that you know are so impactful,” Dombrouski concluded.
Tighter COVID-19 restrictions are coming to Missoula County, officials announced during a Tuesday afternoon news conference.
Missoula Mayor John Engen opened the meeting by stating that new, stricter, COVID-19 guidelines will be going into effect on Thursday.
"If we make progress" then the new restrictions can be eased, Mayor Engen stated.
Missoula County Commissioner Josh Slotnick noted, “we are doing this right now so we can slow what otherwise would be an unstoppable spread."
The case numbers have become too high, making contact tracing increasingly difficult, Slotnick said.
Both Engen and Slotnick noted that the tighter restrictions are being instituted to help keep schools and hospitals open as well as to protect the most vulnerable populations.
Missoula Health Officer Ellen Leahy did note that "we have been doing well on a lot of things." She added tighter restrictions will be put in place, but not a lockdown.
The new restrictions will take effect at 8 a.m. on Oct. 29 and will be reassessed on Nov. 12, according to Leahy.
Business capacity will be limited to 50%, group sizes will be reduced to 25, alcohol service at bars will end at 10 p.m., and people will be asked to stay at home voluntarily.
Organizers of any group gathering of over 25 people will need to check with the Missoula City-County Health Department prior to the planned gathering.
Seating at tables in restaurants and bars will be limited to eight people.
The average number of COVID-19 cases will need to fall to 25 for a seven day period before the new rules can be loosened.
The heads of both Missoula hospitals are asking the public for its help in curbing the COVID-19 surge as it is impacting their workers.
Missoula County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Watson noted that to date there have been a total of 85 coronavirus cases among students and staff and that there are currently 15 active cases being reported in all MCPS schools.
Watch the full press conference below: