Missoula health officials open salons and farmers markets; restrict graduations

Salons and farmer’s markets will be permitted to open under rules announced Friday by the City County Health Department. But guidelines will be in place and crowd numbers will be restricted. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file photo)

The Missoula City-County Health Department on Friday said it would permit salons, barber shops and massage studios to reopen starting Monday, so long as they had a written plan and can abide by certain protocols.

Health Officer Ellen Leahy also loosened restrictions on crowd sizes, boosting it from 25 to 50. The health department will permit certain summer markets to go forward with reduced capacity. Graduation ceremonies may take place, but under significant restrictions.

“I recognize this situation has brought a lot of hardships. I realize some parts of my order today are welcome, and some parts aren’t welcome,” Leahy said. “But what I have found through this whole thing is that the majority of people want to do the best thing they can to be safe and to support our local businesses and activities. We’re looking at the best pragmatic ways to do that.”

Among Friday’s changes, the health department will allow salons, barber shops and massage studios to reopen. Those that do must have a plan in place and have trained employees on certain protocols.

Such businesses were permitted to open last week under Gov. Steve Bullock’s statewide directive, though the Missoula health department delayed it locally. That restriction ends on Monday.

“In order to provide that care, you have to be in the six foot contagion zone,” Leahy said of certain occupations. “We have put together, with help from experts in the industry, some more requirements to help mitigate that risk. We will require a short, pretty simple plan from each business about how they’re going to implement the guidelines.”

While group limits were capped at 25 as Phase One of the reopening began, the health department boosted that figure to 50 on Friday, so long as social distancing is practiced. With spring in bloom, health officials also have given the nod to certain farmer’s markets.

Shannon Therriault, the environmental health officer, said local markets were defined as non-social events that are intended to distribute produce and other agricultural products. Markets that do begin to open are restricted to 250 people and must submit a written plan to the health department on how they’ll ensure patrons are properly distanced.

“We worked with both farmers markets and the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition on how to connect local people to produce,” said Therriault. “The markets have done a lot of thinking about how to ensure people can stay six feet apart.”

The markets will be limited to the sale of unprocessed products and won’t be permitted to provide entertainment or other social events. They must establish one-way traffic, along with other guidelines.

“We felt like this would be a good solution, so vendors can connect to people and the fresh produce and ag products can get to the people who need it,” said Therriault. “I know the larger markets have done a lot of thinking and have progressed in their plans.”

Health officials may also permit graduation ceremonies to move forward, though they’ll be restricted to 250 people – a figure that includes students, staff and audience members. Ceremonies must also establish distance between attendees and students, along with rules on sanitation and signage.

Leahy admitted the restrictions were difficult and would likely pose challenges for this year’s traditional graduation events. But the larger the crowd, she said, the greater the risk to the public.

“It’s been a very difficult year for all schools and there’s trepidation, but there’s also planning to help schools reopen next year,” she said. “We’re going to take full advantage of the summer to work with our schools and do that. I know the seniors have lost out on a number of traditional activities.”

No new cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Missoula County in more than two weeks, though health officials said risk remains. On Friday, they urged all consumers to wear face masks when out in public.

“Keeping cases down at this point comes down to behavior and contact tracing,” said Cindy Farr, the local incident commander. “We can do the contact tracing and provide guidance to our community, but we still need the community’s help. Social distancing and helping businesses and organizations follow the provisions is not only helpful for them but helpful for the community.”