Businesses, churches adjust during pandemic

March 20, 2020 8:11 AM

Each day the national news offers increasingly sobering predictions about the human and economic toll that could result as cases of COVID-19 multiply. Mandates or recommendations for “social distancing” are affecting businesses, schools, grocery stores, churches and jobs.

And that’s true in Lincoln County even though, as of early March 19, no cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in the county.

Mark Peck, chairman of the Lincoln County board of commissioners, said it’s possible the virus has made its way to the region but has not yet been detected through testing. He noted that the county has a high percentage of people who could be especially vulnerable to the virus because of asbestos-related disease.

“We need to take care of our family and our friends and we’ll weather this thing,” Peck said.

The regional response this week has included additional cancellations or other measures taken in efforts to reduce exposure to the virus.

The Kootenai National Forest announced the closing of its front offices, effective March 17, until further notice. The office said it will respond to phone calls from people seeking visitor information, a map or wood permit and would also make appointments.

Regional churches adopted varied approaches in response to calls for “social distancing” due to COVID-19.

Libby Christian Church opted to cancel services for March 22 and 29, noting the church will decide later this month whether to extend the cancellations.

St. Joseph Catholic Church has canceled services through March 30.

A recording at Libby United Methodist Church announced the church building will be closed through March. Troy United Methodist Church’s phone featured a similar message.

Pastor Pat Weyrauch of the Libby Church of the Nazarene said May 17 that the church had notified members that a service will still be held Sunday and encouraged them to make a personal decision about whether to attend.

“We will still be available,” he said.

The Lincoln County Library System announced March 16 the closing of all library branches until at least April 1.

Alyssa Ramirez, director of Lincoln County Public Libraries, said staff members are continuing to work, tackling projects that are challenging to initiate and complete when the library’s three branches are open.

“These projects include weeding, inventory, painting, relabeling and rearranging of the library,” Ramirez said. “Unlike other departments, we don’t have the capability to move all of our work to home.”

She said the county library system employs nine people. Six work part-time.

Kootenai Valley Ducks Unlimited has canceled the banquet scheduled for April 25 in Libby. The local committee observed that “the long-term health and well being of our supporters and volunteers is far more important than any single gathering.”

The banquet will likely be rescheduled sometime in May or June, the committee said.

McDonald’s has closed its dining room until further notice but continues to offer drive-through service.

The Venture Inn announced changes for its restaurant, including temporarily suspending access to a salad bar, serving condiments in single-portion sizes and heightened efforts to clean tables, chairs, booths and menus after each guest. The restaurant said it will offer an enhanced carryout service.

Regional banks have responded differently to recommendations for social distancing.

For First Montana Bank, the lobby is closed except by appointment. The main office of Lincoln County Credit Union will keep its lobby open until there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the county.

Cabinet Peaks Medical Center announced a host of changes, saying it will focus on providing “mission critical services only.”

The hospital’s front door will be locked from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily.

The medical center canceled services that include, but are not limited to: elective surgeries, pulmonary rehabilitation, cardiac rehabilitation and sleep center.

Limited services will be available at imaging, the laboratory and several other departments.

More details are available at under the heading “COVID-19 Information.”