A Microsoft Teams press conference on Wednesday provided some updates on how quickly the city, county and the health department may move to further open businesses in Missoula County in response to the COVID 19 crisis.

One question asked by a reporter and answered by COVID 19 Incident Commander Cindy Farr addressed the reopening of hair salons, barbershops and tattoo parlors.

“As for salons, barbershops and other businesses that were closed under the Health Officer’s orders,” began Farr. “While they were not included as not being able to open under the governor’s directive, our Health Officer Ellen Leahy did want them to be closed a little bit longer, because at that time we still had nine active cases in Missoula and lots of close contacts, however, things have really changed in our community over the last week and a half, and I believe that at the end of this week she is going to be reassessing her Health Officer orders, looking at where we are now and making some changes to that.”

Regarding the opening of gyms and fitness centers, Environmental Health Director Shannon Therriault explained why the governor’s initial order did not include such facilities.

“Knowing it was time to reopen Montana, the governor made some decisions about which ones would be open first,” said Therriault. “Some of the ones that weren’t opened were because they did present a higher risk. For example, in a lot of gyms there’s a lot of shared equipment, and in classes it can be hard to keep people apart. It’s only been a week and a half since this started and I think that as we see really good numbers then more places will be able to open. However, this has to be done in such a way that we have big numbers spike in our community.
One of the business owners that was part of the governor’s task force was Charlie Beaton, owner of the Big Dipper Ice Cream Shop. He described his store’s efforts to expand the reopening.

“Last Friday we were able to start scooping ice cream again,” said Beaton. “We’ve put these big blue squares out in our parking lot that go out to the sidewalk and around the block. The squares are big so that groups can stay six feet apart and that’s really helped groups stay apart from each other.”

Beaton described other actions taken to protect his staff and customers.

“We’ve also put in place a lot of things at work, like masks and we’re waiting on a thermometer so that we can take the temperatures of our employees as they’re coming to work,” he said. “We feel pretty comfortable moving forward. We also have a system in place so that if things do flare up, I feel like we can pull back a little bit and go back to online ordering, so we have a little flexibility.”

The meeting was facilitated by Missoula Mayor John Engen and County Commission Chair Josh Slotnik.

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