By Andi Bourne
Pathfinder 

Stay at home order lifts Sunday, businesses can start phased reopening Monday

 

April 23, 2020



MONTANA – Governor Steve Bullock announced a gradual and phased reopening of the state beginning Sunday for individuals and extending to businesses on Monday. Individual counties still have the authority to impose more restrictive local ordinances and encourages local officials to work regionally and make local adjustments as local needs demand. Missoula County Incident Commander Cindy Farr said Missoula County will release their guidelines by the end of the week.

“There are very few states in the country that can say they have seen the number of positive cases decline over these past weeks. Montana can say that because, together, we have made that decline in cases possible,” Governor Bullock said. “While there is reason for optimism this is not a time for celebration. I am going to ask Montanans to continue to go to great lengths to protect one another, to continue looking out for our neighbors who need it the most, and to continue being vigilant in every step we take.”


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The plan to reopen gradually was based on the latest scientific evidence and data, and in consultation with public health experts, health care providers, business leaders and emergency management professionals. The Governor’s plan is detailed in a Directive and accompanying Appendix with guidelines for certain industries.

Montana’s plan to reopen relies on Montanans to adhere to social distancing guidelines whenever possible and to continue to limit gatherings of 10 or more where social distancing guidelines can not be maintained. Guidance remains in place for members of vulnerable groups to continue to shelter at home, though it is no longer mandatory. Additionally, visitation at nursing homes will continue to be suspended and older Montanans and those who are immunocompromised should continue to follow the stay at home directive.

The stay at home order will expire on April 26 for individuals and April 27 for businesses. Main Street and retail businesses can become operational on or after April 27 if they can adhere to requirements to limit capacity and maintain strict physical distancing.

Employers are directed to develop policies to keep employees and customers safe including teleworking when possible, enforcing social distancing protocols and other measures as provided in an appendix of reopening guidelines. He asks that businesses make special accommodations for their workers in the vulnerable populations.


“Businesses need to develop and implement appropriate policies regarding protective equipment, temperature checks or symptom screening,” said Bullock. “They need to enforce strict social distancing protocols such as closing common areas in the work place were people are more likely to congregate and interact.”

Places of worship can become operational on April 26 in a manner consistent with social distancing between people who are not members of the same household.

Restaurants, bars, breweries and distilleries can begin providing some in-establishment services beginning May 4. No more than six people can sit together with more space between tables. Patrons can not sit at the bar to drink and all customers must be out of the establishment by 11:30 p.m.

Bullock said this request is delayed for another week based on the request of public health officials and business owners. This will allow them time to work together to establish a plan, call back staff and train them on the new order of business and order supplies. He added that they need to get this right so they don’t become the source of a cluster outbreak resulting in subsequent closures.

“As these businesses open and more Montanans leave their homes, I’m asking all Montanans to continue to act like a loved one’s life may well depend on your actions because they do.”

Businesses where groups gather without the ability to social distance including movie theaters, gyms and other places of assembly remain closed.

On May 7, all schools will have the option to return to in-classroom teaching delivery. That decision will be at the discretion of local school boards. Local school boards can declare local emergencies and continue to receive all appropriate state funding and continue to provide remote learning.


“While we are all doing the best that we can during this public health crisis, I have yet to talk to a teacher that believes their students are growing and gaining as they would for it not for COVID-19,” said Bullock. “Schools like every other places for larger assembly holds the potential for the transmission of the virus. Yet we need to be thinking about how to minimize the risk of transmission and still serve our children how and where they need it most. COVID-19 will not just be with us for the next several months, but we may well be facing these same issues next fall.”

Bullock said of the 439 case in Montana, only 12 have been age 19 and under. He encourages local school boards, teachers and administrators to consider how to deliver in-class instruction, not just why not. He also encourages them to be creative and consider ways to minimize, not eliminate, the spread of the virus to honor graduates.

Montana’s travel quarantine will remain in effect and out of state travelers and residents arriving from another state or country back to Montana for non-work related purposes are required to quarantine for 14 days.

Montana has aggressively managed the virus with a series of actions including suspending nursing home visitation, closing schools, closing higher risk businesses such as bars, restaurants, gyms and movie theaters and enacting a stay at home order. As a result, Montana has the lowest percentage of positive cases per capita when compared to its population and the lowest number of hospitalizations per capita in the nation.

The plan includes several phases and details the factors that will determine when it is appropriate to move to the second phase of reopening. For now, he said there is no expiration date on Phase 1. The decision to move into phase 2 will be driven by conditions on the ground and the latest data. Governor Bullock and his task force will continue to monitor cases closely and carefully to analyze Montana’s work to contain the virus.

“Our new normal is going to look different. This virus isn’t gone from Montana. So as we turn to support our main street businesses and get more families back to work during this time – as we should – we must also be sure to continue looking out for those around us and protecting everyone around us,” Governor Bullock said. “Once we begin to reopen, we want to be able to stay open. Our personal responsibility to protect those around us – particularly those most vulnerable – remains just as important as any time during this pandemic.”

The Directive and its Appendix with reopening guidelines are attached and posted online at https://covid19.mt.gov/.

 

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