City, county of Missoula begin continuity plan, outreach as virus response picks up

Missoula Mayor John Engen said the city is now operating under a business continuity plan, which continues essential services but limits face-to-face interactions as public health officials brace for the COVID-19 virus. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

The city and county of Missoula are taking steps to address employee and public safety as health officials brace for the likely arrival of the COVID-19 virus, which could include mandatory restrictions limiting public gatherings and school closures.

While health officials aren’t yet to that point, the city of Missoula has already entered what Mayor John Engen described Friday as a business continuity plan.

“That plan is designed to get us from soup to nuts depending on the duration and severity of the pandemic,” he said. “We will continue to provide the essential services that are necessary for the city of Missoula to continue to operate.”

During a briefing on Friday, Engen described those essential services as emergency responders, public safety and facility maintenance. Other services will continue, though many will no longer involve face-to-face interactions.

Engen called the disruption in services an inconvenience, though a necessary one.

“What you’ll likely see in the city of Missoula and in some cases already today, you’re not going to go to the finance window to pay your bill,” he said. “We’re going to ask you to mail it. And we’re not likely to send an employee to your home to inspect a water heater.”

Despite the temporary changes, Engen said the city is “built and equipped” to endure a potential outbreak, and community partners, including the health department, have plans in place to ensure services are offered but exposure is reduced.

“It’s a very fluid situation and from the city of Missoula perspective, we have all hands on deck,” he said. “There are going to be a lot of opportunities to make choices around how to engage in the community, and this is the time to look at those choices, and sometimes those choices are to stay at home.”

Friday’s briefing, which included a panel of health experts and school officials, also saw several members of the City Council in attendance, including Gwen Jones, Jordan Hess and Stacie Anderson.

Missoula City Council member Bryan von Lossberg said local organizations are taking responsible steps ahead of the virus. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Council member Bryan von Lossberg said organizations in Missoula, statewide and nationally are taking steps to reduce public exposure and spread of the virus. That includes the canceling of spring sporting events both nationally and in Missoula, and preparations by local schools.

“Those are all responsible things to do,” he said. “It’s important to acknowledge this can be a dislocating and dizzying experience when events move so rapidly, when the routines of daily life are disrupted and turned upside down. We’re going to see more of that in the days and weeks ahead. You’re not alone in feeling those things.”

Missoula County Commissioner Josh Slotnick offered a similar take on current events. He said the county is taking measures of its own. County staff and other commissioners were also in attendance Friday.

“We’re asking our other electeds and department heads to begin to work on changing plans on how we do that service delivery and how we protect the most vulnerable of our employees,” he said. “Everyone can do something like this within their own work places.”