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Missoula health officer issues new orders restricting access to all senior facilities

Missoula area seniors play cards in this 2017 file photo. The health department on Thursday issued new rules for senior-related facilities to stem the spread of COVID-19. (Missoula Current file photo)

The Missoula City-County Health Department on Thursday made good on a proposed order restricting access to all retirement homes and other care facilities to slow an outbreak of COVID-19.

Health Officer Ellen Leahy earlier this week had already issued orders for eight long-term care and assisted living facilities after staff and residents contracted the novel coronavirus.

At the time, Leahy said she was reviewing a possible countywide order and suggested it could be issued this week. It came on Thursday and takes effect on Friday.

“Numerous congregate care and residential facilities serve residents and patients of advanced age in Missoula County,” Leahy said. “With more than 60 confirmed COVID-19 cases currently associated with residents, patients and staff at facilities like these, additional required prevention measures are now needed to better protect individual and public health.”

Under the order, visitors will no longer be allowed inside facilities, and residents and patients will be required to wear cloth face coverings. Leahy said staff will also wear additional protective equipment when working in the facilities.

Leahy said the order, reached in agreement with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, also limits communal dining and group activities, and expands the criteria for testing, quarantine and isolation.

“Missoula County has seen an increasing number of active cases with a large number of close contacts in the past few weeks,” she said. “While the majority of active cases continue to affect younger adults, ages 20-39, cases are also increasing in older adults residing in the county.”

On Thursday, the health department reported 22 new coronavirus cases across Missoula and was monitoring 474 active cases. Those cases have resulted in 1,280 close contacts and 19 current hospitalizations.

County health officials said the growing number of cases is placing “extra pressure on the overall capacity of our healthcare infrastructure.”

Adults over the age of 75 are listed as a priority population by the CDC. Adults in that age range have a higher risk of hospitalization due to the virus and a higher risk of death.

Leahy said residents and staff in at least 10 facilities that cater to older adults in Missoula County have tested positive for the virus. No visitors are allowed in such facilities, except for end-of-life compassionate care. All entryways must have signs posted prohibiting visitors.