The Missoula City-County Joint Information Center for COVID 19 presented a live ZOOM press conference of Friday to provide information about the opening of public schools, and the child care options available to parents.

The first to speak was MCPS Superintendent Rob Watson who touted the hybrid schedule that will begin on August 26, the first day of school.

“When you start to consider some of the some of the benefits that we've created around our schedule, we've created a staggered start and end time for our buildings, said Dr. Watson. “That also helps us with numbers of students on buses. We also created some pretty creative schedules in our K five and our 6-12 buildings that help with the limit help us limit the mixing of students.”

Watson said the K-5 students will for the most part stay in specified groups.

“K five we have created a cohort schedule, which keeps kids together for the majority of the day,” he said. “At 6-12 we've converted to an intensive block schedule. Basically what an intensive block schedule does is it allows students to have just a few periods each day for an extended period of weeks, and it limits the mixing of students throughout the day.”

Watson said such a schedule makes accurate contact tracing possible.

“Should we have a confirmed case, it helps limit the transmission of that to other students or to teachers,” he said. “It also helps the health department with contact tracing, if we can limit the mixing of kids throughout the day. So, those changes to our school schedule are not easy, and school is going to look a lot different. But we're committed to following through with those changes because we believe it's important and it's a safe way to restart school.”

Heather Foster heads up the YMCA Child Care Program.

“The ‘Y’ will be providing five days of after school at the following locations Russell Elementary, Chief Charlo, Paxson and Hellgate Elementary. At Hellgate we'll also be doing before school care. The ‘Y’s’ after school programs are all licensed through the state of Montana. Kelly talked a little bit about some of the funding that's available, but if families qualify or are income eligible, they can utilize Best Beginnings scholarships to pay for all of our after school programs.”

Foster said the ‘Y’ has crafted its programs to complement the public school model.

“We're working to support the hybrid model,” she said. “Our current plan is to operate five days of full day care from 8am until 6pm here at the ‘Y’. We will have very small groups that will sort of rotate through stations, utilizing our facility stations will include anything from doing PE to outdoor activities to some extracurriculars, and then we'll have a learning lab here where students will be able to rotate through and get online and be able to do some homework and whatever their remote learning requirements might be.”

Health Officer Ellen Leahy praised the schools and the child care programs for their efforts to keep children and teachers safe from COVID.

“The only protection we have right now against this virus is essentially distance or things that can control the release of respiratory droplets from traveling the distance to someone who can breathe them in,” said Leahy. “It's just phenomenal the types of thinking and flexibility and creativity that have come out from these experts in both child development and child care to incorporate that distance.”

Leahy emphasized the concept of social distancing with COVID 19.

“Why? Because the virus is very catchy,” she said. “It does break through. Particularly children may not have symptoms and we may not know that they're contagious. The smaller group means that fewer people are exposed to that, and then we as a health department, assisted by all of these agencies, can get in there and do the contact tracing, which determines who else may have been exposed.”

Other groups represented were the United Way, Child Care Resources, Missoula Parks and Recreation, and the Boys and Girls Club.