The Missoula City County Health Department and Health Officer Ellen Leahy released new guidance on Thursday regarding the number of spectators being allowed at local high school sports venues.

Leahy said she consulted with other Double A high school districts before making her decision.

“That was an attempt to try to get in better alignment with the other six large counties that have Double A school,” said Leahy. “So we all started out not identical with our restrictions, but once we learned that football was going to go forward and then each of those jurisdictions as they learned more and got feedback and determined what they could do then they changed their restrictions, and so we just analyzed all that here in Missoula and did something similar.”

Leahy said she and other health officers tried to get their high schools to flip their sports seasons, but they insisted on having their regular fall football season. She said each school district is dealing with its own COVID problems.

“It took a bit to align all that up and also to be looking at the fact that many of our counties are in different epidemiological situations from time to time,” she said. “So there's a lot of moving targets, but something that we do recognize that these teams do cross into each other's counties, and it was going to be easier for everyone if we could get as consistent as possible, so that's why I made the change.”

She said that the upcoming basketball season, despite being played with fewer participants, is actually more challenging than football.

“Epidemiologically, we will look at where we are with numbers and we also have to look at the fact that with basketball we're going to be looking indoors and just generally speaking outdoors is less risky for spread than indoors,” she said.

Leahy said her focus has always been the health and safety of all involved, and that sports bring people together, and that’s how the virus spreads.

“Thinking from an epidemiological standpoint, with this particular virus active and contact sports, particularly with cross town meetings, when you're not wearing masks and you're getting very close, if not making physical contact with each other,” she said. “Those are all the conditions that the virus really likes, and so anytime that can be very well understood and mitigated is going to help, not only the team members, but their family members and the school.”

The Health Department states that the practice of keeping the number of players in other sports to as few as possible has already reduced COVID-19 exposure and transmission, as well as the number of students, staff, or public that were quarantined despite the increasing case numbers this week.

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