by Nathan Boddy
Dr. Marshall Bloom, Associate Director of the Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML), was a guest speaker at the Hamilton City Council on Tuesday, June 1. His presentation was given to familiarize the Council with a series of developments that will begin on, and adjacent to, the RML campus over the coming years. Dr. Bloom shared architectural renderings of a new vivarium, new information and way-finding signage for the main RML entrance on 4th Street, a rebuilt water line on Baker Street, as well as plans for and new segments of fencing to be constructed on the lab’s west and south sides. Per the normal operating procedure for RML, lab neighbors will be updated by mail as projects move forward.
Dr. Bloom’s presentation also gave a generalized history of RML’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic over the last 17 months. Dr. Bloom stated that the first reports of a new pneumonia virus from Wuhan, China was reported by the Washington Post on December 30th, and by January 15th of 2020, Rocky Mountain Laboratories had submitted proposals to do research on the new coronavirus.
“That was well before the first case of coronavirus was identified in the United States,” says Dr. Bloom. “We were really ahead of the curve on that.”
According to Dr. Bloom, RML was already planning for the impacts of the pandemic by February, anticipating disruptions to supply lines, availability of gloves, N-95 masks, etc. By late summer, RML had begun doing voluntary, asymptomatic testing of RML staff. “As of today, we’ve done more than 3700 tests of our employees. We don’t have that many employees, of course, but a lot of people get tested weekly.”
Testing for the virus on RML’s campus has not been the only focus, however. “As soon as the vaccine became available, we realized we should make plans to vaccinate our staff,” Dr. Bloom said, adding that, as of June 1st, 2021, “the vaccination uptake among the scientific staff is over 95%. That tells you that, the people who know the most about this are the ones who are lining up for the vaccine.”
Dr. Bloom went on to report that several programs traditionally hosted by RML, including summer and high school interns, as well as tours and visits of the lab, will remain unfilled this summer on account of the ongoing pandemic.
In later agenda items, the Council filled three positions, appointing Jessica Randazzo to the city Zoning Commission, Carmela Browns to the Bitterroot Public Library Board of Trustees, and Councilor Kristi Bielski as the Council’s new representative to the North Hamilton Urban Renewal District.
Lastly, two rezoning requests received their second and final readings, adding slightly over four acres of residentially zoned land to the City of Hamilton. While none of the immediately adjacent landowners were present for the second reading, Kent Barbian spoke in opposition to the zoning changes by posing the question, “Who does this benefit?”
Michelle and Steve Robinson of Hamilton made comments in support of one rezoning, saying, “We do support the zone request to become residential high density because it would be selfish to not do so. There’s a great need in our community for people to have a place to live.” The couple went on to express their hope that traffic safety, especially given proximity of the Claudia Driscoll Skate Park and the high volume of youth in the area, be kept in mind during any development.