Missoula health department adds gyms, theaters to closures; compiles list of nurses

The Missoula City-County Health Department on Wednesday expanded its list of closures to include gyms and movie theaters, and said its call for registered nurses has begun to show results.

Three days after joining several other urban counties in ordering bars and restaurants to close, less take-out orders, the health department moved to add gyms and theaters to the list. The latest order goes into effect at midnight on Wednesday and runs through March 24, though it could be extended at that time.

Health Officer Ellen Leahy said other closures could be forthcoming.

“I wouldn’t say for a minute we’re not talking or examining other areas of congregation or other types of measures as the case counts continue to increase, which I expect they will,” she said.

“We’re looking at those who have the most regular types of congregation, or sometimes are all about social congregation, or large facilities at certain times of day that are obvious in the types of congregations they have.”

While the state and federal government have not issued mandates ordering such closures, cities and counties have acted on their own to protect public health and safety. Leahy said a handful of urban counties in Montana have moved together when issuing such closures.

“Many times we’re able to come out with exactly the same order at exactly the same time,” she said. “We’re doing that as much as possible. This is the second time that large, local and more populated counties with city centers have issued orders because of the large congregations that often happen in those particular cities.”

On Sunday, local health officials said their call for registered nurses hadn’t met the intended results. But since then, the offers of help have begun coming in.

Leahy said she alone receives multiple offers each night, and Missoula County’s human resources office also has fielded calls. She expects those who apply will be put to work as the pandemic plays out and more patients become sick.

“Even if folks aren’t hired right away, we know we’re going to need more as time goes on,” she said. “We very much appreciate the type of response we’re getting. Some people, we won’t be putting them to work yet, but things are changing quickly. Pandemics tend to escalate quickly, so having more than we need right now of people we can count on is helpful and relieving to this response.”