Missoula Mayor John Engen on Monday night confirmed that he has contracted COVID-19, but said he was doing well given the circumstances.
During the first City Council meeting of 2021, Engen said his only concern was protecting his lungs – the only pre-existing condition he acknowledged.
It was the first time the administration publicly acknowledged his diagnosis, though members of the City Council appeared aware of his condition before his announcement.
“My symptoms have not hit my lungs,” Engen said. “That’s my most vulnerable health issue. I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. I’m very tired, but I’m doing better than a lot of folks.”
Engen said he has taken all the precautions over the past several months. The City Council has been meeting remotely since last spring, when several council members expressed concerns over safety.
However, Engen’s mother, who is 91, contracted the virus in early December. Engen said he opted to bring her home to ensure her care and suspects he contracted the virus from her.
“I’m taking care of my 91 year-old mother who’s been living with me since she was diagnosed with COVID-19,” Engen said. “Over the three weeks, while I thought I was lucky, I wasn’t. Mom is fine.”
It’s not the first time the mayor’s health has been brought into question, and the city has a transition plan in the event the mayor was unable to perform the duties of his office.
That falls to the president of the City Council, who is currently Bryan von Lossburg.
“If something goes south, we’ve long had in the City of Missoula a business continuation plan,” Engen said. “The council president, Bryan, would step in as acting mayor if I was incapacitated.”
The 2021 Legislature kicked off on Monday as well, where mask-wearing became a partisan issue in the state Capitol. Most Democrats wore a mask while most Republicans did not.
Engen encouraged the public to wear a mask, get a vaccine when it becomes available, and practice proper hygiene.
“I’m not receiving any particular treatment right now other than cough syrup and extra-strength Tylenol,” Engen said. “That’s what I went home with from the emergency room.”
Other members of the City Council offered the mayor their well-wishes.
“Taking care of aging parents is not an easy task, and it’s especially difficult during a pandemic,” said council member Mirtha Becerra. “I commend you for doing that. I think taking care of elderly parents is an honor. Not many people get to have that pleasure. It’s too bad COVID got ahold of you, but I have no doubt you’ll recover quickly.”
Since the pandemic set in back in March of last year, nearly 1,000 Montanans have succumbed to the virus. The Missoula City-County Health Department on Monday said local hospitals are receiving an overwhelming number of calls from the general public asking for the vaccine.
However, the vaccine is not yet available to the general public and won’t be until late spring or early summer. Like the rest of Montana, the county is currently in Phase 1A, meaning vaccines are only available to healthcare personnel and residents of long-term care facilities.
“Rather than having my mother be on her own to manage this illness, it was a no brainer to me to bring her home and take care of her,” Engen said. “I don’t have much to complain about when you look around the country.”