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Reopening the Big Sky, phased approach

Gov. Steve Bullock announced the phased reopening of Montana’s economy with guidelines in each phase for individuals, businesses, restaurants and schools.  Local jurisdictions may enforce stricter policies moving forward.

“Back in March, we knew that if we did not act, there would be dire consequences,” Gov. Bullock said in the press call on April 22. As a result of early action Montana has the lowest percentage of COVID-19 cases when compared to population and the lowest number of hospitalizations per capita in the nation.

General recommendations throughout the phases include staying home if sick, using face masks in public settings and minimizing non-essential travel. Vulnerable Montanans, those immunocompromised or older, are encouraged follow the Stay at Home Directive, although it is no longer enforced. 

Employers are encouraged to modify work environments, monitoring the work force for symptoms and prohibiting symptomatic employees from returning to work. Businesses are expected to develop and implement polices including temperature checks, providing protective equipment and closing gathering areas. 

Nursing home visitation will continue to be suspended and travelers into the state are to continue a 14-day quarantine upon arrival.

“While there’s reason for optimism, this is no time for celebration,” Gov. Bullock said. On Sunday, April 26, the Stay at Home Directive will end, and Montana will enter Phase One. Gatherings of 10 or more are to be avoided. Places of worship may commence operations with reduced capacity.

Main Street and retail businesses along with personal care businesses--hair salons, tattoo parlors--may reopen April 28 while maintaining social distance and hygiene guidelines. 

Restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries and casinos may resume modified onsite operations May 4.In-establishment operations must be at half capacity, table seating must be limited to six or fewer, tables must be appropriately distanced, ordering from a bar is not allowed and establishments must close by 11:30 p.m. This reopening was delayed a week to give businesses time to adjust. 

“The Montana Chamber of Commerce supports a phased approach to re-opening our economy, while still maintaining health standards and containing the spread of COVID-19. Montana businesses are capable of being flexible and partnering with our colleagues and employees to address the challenges that this may pose, and are eager to open our doors once again,” Todd O’Hair, President/CEO of the Montana Chamber of Commerce, said in the press release.

The directive issuing the closures of schools across the state will be lifted May 7. The decision to continue remote instruction or return to on-campus learning will be up to local school boards. 

“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 be with us not just for the next several months but we may well be facing these same issues next fall when school starts,” Gov. Bullock said. Twelve positive COVID-19 cases have been under the age of 19 in Montana.

Phase One does not have a specific expiration date. Moving forward or backward will be informed by data and conditions across the state. Aggressive and collective action got Montanans to a phased reopened and the hope is Montanans continue to take this seriously, Gov. Bullock said. Local jurisdiction will have the authority to enforce phase guidelines if need be.

“I’m asking all Montanans to continue to act like a loved one’s life may well depend on your actions, because they do,” Gov. Bullock said. He reiterated a reopening does not mean a return to a world before the coronavirus.

Reopening national parks will be up to the federal government and gateway communities. Phase One and Two instruct areas that cannot practically implement social distancing or sanitation to remain closed. By Phase Three, campgrounds, group-use facilities, playgrounds and visitor centers may be fully opened. Guides and outfitters may offer services consistent with the travel quarantine, social distancing and sanitation practices.

“As we enter Phase One this is not a time for political posture or declaring a victory and we’re not in the clear yet. We’re still relying on support from the federal government to get through this,” Gov. Bullock said.

The state continues work to obtain PPE and testing supplies. Hundreds of thousands of face masks, shields and gloves have been attained from private distributors. Montana received 5,000 test swabs and viral transport media and the state is working to increase testing capacity.

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