After over 30 years serving the Missoula City County Health Department, Health Officer Ellen Leahy announced that she would be stepping down in June.

Leahy told KGVO News that she had determined to announce her retirement last spring, but that’s when all hell broke loose with the COVID pandemic.

“I delayed my initial plan because as soon as I landed on it the pandemic hit, so I thought this is a good time to stick around,” said Leahy. “So sticking around for that, of course, and getting through what should be one of the more challenging periods with this great team we have here, but the board is actively recruiting so that when they hire someone, I'll have some time to work with them. So it'll be the summer.”

Leahy addressed the arrival of the COVID 19 vaccines, that frontline workers, nursing homes and those who are immuno-compromised will be first to receive the vaccine, followed by those who are 65 and older, but the rest of the population may have to wait a bit longer.

“If you're looking at it in terms of will the general public have had enough opportunity that a large proportion of the public those that are choosing to get it will have already gotten it?” she asked. “Yeah, you're definitely going to be looking more towards summer but for first availability, the forecast were being given is for April or May.”

Leahy spoke of the COVID numbers in Missoula County and how the community is progressing in the attempt to bring the numbers down to 25 per 100, 000 population.

“Our incidence rate as of today is 44 new cases daily per 100,000 population,” she said. “So to put that in perspective, we're not supposed to be above 25. Above that is when you can get some risky or out of control spread. We put our restrictions in place as we were heading into the 30s. And when we went through that spike, we hit at somewhere in the 80s, and now we've been dropping for four to five days down to incidents of 44.”

Leahy was asked about the lawsuit in Helena District Court against Governor Bullock’s mandates for mask wearing and reduction of hours for restaurants, bars and taverns. She said all the orders that come out of her office have been vetted by county attorneys, for legality.

“Anything that we put out here, it gets a really thorough legal review from our county attorney's office,” she said. “I mean, even if I write an order to comply, that gets reviewed to make sure that it's fitting with the duties and the authority that I do and don't have, and that I've written what the epidemiological underpinnings are; the reasons, and that it's as measured as it can be, and that it's feasible to enforce.”

Leahy recalled that one of the first major issues she faced when she started was the banning of wood stoves throughout the county to control air pollution. She said that even though the air quality is much better today, that wood burning stoves are still the leading cause of poor air quality in the Missoula valley.

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