Missoula May Remove Mask Mandate if Residents Get Vaccinated

If 60 percent of the county’s residents get at least one dose by May 11, public health officials will change the mask mandate to a recommendation. If COVID numbers worsen, the county will reinstate the mandate.

(TNS) — The Missoula, Mont., County Board of Health adopted several resolutions on Thursday, including one to possibly remove the mask mandate.

If 60 percent of the Missoula County population has had at least one dose by May 11, the mask mandate will become a recommendation.

And most COVID-19 mandates for businesses, bars, restaurants, barbers and gyms would become recommendations, not requirements.

However, if COVID-19 cases per 100,000 trend above 25 on a seven-day average, the mask mandate could be reinstated. Reasons the board gave included hospital capacity, high interest in vaccination and that the most vulnerable population has been protected. Many people in the county are still expected to continue to use distancing and masking in public places.

"I think that the strong message here is that this isn't a rescinding of the face-covering requirement, so much as it's — it's not flipping a light switch so much as it's a dimmer approach — so really the expectation and hope is that most people in Missoula will still wear face coverings when it goes to recommendations, especially in public places where it's harder to maintain 6-foot distancing," said Shannon Therriaut, who is the director of Environmental Health for Missoula.

Restaurants and hairstylists were mentioned as places where 6-foot distancing would still be an expectation. In bars with dance floors, the hope is that businesses will find ways to limit capacity.

Employees in those businesses will be able to recognize COVID-19 symptoms and make sure sick people stay home, Therriaut said. Symptomatic and asymptomatic testing is also strongly encouraged.

"I was an early advocate for having a mask mandate and although it feels nerve-wracking to consider relaxing that, I don't think that just being nervous is an epidemiologically sound way to make a decision," said Amber Sherrill, a City Council member and member of the health board.

Vaccine appointments are readily available in Missoula County and anyone age 16 years or older has the ability to get one.

Adriane Beck, director of Missoula County's Office of Emergency Management, noted at the beginning of Thursday's meeting that 32,807 people in the county have been fully vaccinated. An additional 20,148 are awaiting the second dose of the vaccine and have at least partial protection against COVID-19.

Beck noted that clinics operated by the Missoula City-County Health Department, Partnership Health Center and the University of Montana are all seeing decreases in demand for appointments.

Partnership Health has transitioned to no longer offering first-dose clinics at the Missoula County Fairgrounds. They will instead switch to more focused outreach and pop-up clinics, which they have done at Poverello Center and at the Johnson Street Emergency Shelter.

The University of Montana has also shut down its first-dose clinics at the Adams Center and will offer appointments out of the Curry Health Center.

Beck said Missoula County Public Schools will offer some in-school vaccination clinics starting on April 19 and extending through April 25. Those will take place at Sentinel High School, Willard School, Hellgate High School and Big Sky High School.

Seeley-Swan High School and Frenchtown High School, Beck said, "weren't necessarily interested in doing in-school, school-sponsored vaccination clinics, but had done some proactive outreach with their parents."

All Nations Health Center is planning to hold a walk-up COVID-19 vaccination clinic from 4 to 8 p.m. on Monday, April 19 at the former Lucky's Market in Southgate Mall. No appointments are necessary and both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines will be offered.

Patients at this clinic will receive a $15 gift card for iTunes, Google Play or WinCo while supplies last, according to a news release.

(c)2021 Missoulian, Mont. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.