HELENA — The Lewis and Clark City-County Board of Health has eased more COVID-19 restrictions in the county following a decline in cases and improved conditions at the hospital.
The times that bars, restaurants, casinos, and gyms can operate in the county have been extended from a midnight closing to 2:00 a.m.
Restrictions on the number of individuals seated at a table have also increased from six to eight people.
The Board of Health also voted to classify school graduation ceremonies as school events, which will exempt them from the county’s 250 person event limit.
“They are still required to submit a plan to public health for review. We still expect those mitigation strategies to be in place to protect those in attendance,” said Health Officer Drenda Niemann.
Niemann says the school districts and both colleges are already working on their plans and have been great partners during the pandemic.
“We hear from them often and they are great partners in making sure the prevention strategies they have in place are adequate. They are doing a great job,” said Niemann.
The changes to restrictions are the result of the county’s COVID decision-making criteria score reaching 19.5 for the two-week average.
The most recent week came in at a score of 17.
Once the county has reached two consecutive weeks of a score under 18, the vast majority of COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted in the county.
However, the Board of Health did opt to keep the mask mandate even if other restrictions are lifted until enough people have been vaccinated for the virus.
“We know how important it is right now with the variants happening around the world, and the fact that we just haven’t reached the level of vaccination needed to lift mask protection,” said Niemann.
“Wearing a mask right now is vital. It’s one of the most important tools that we have to continue to limit any further spread and to keep for that variant taking hold," Niemann added.
Niemann says she’s thrilled to see the progress being made in the community and is looking forward to the day when everything goes back to normal.
“It feels great, it really does,” said Niemann. “We know how difficult it’s been on our community. We know the sacrifices that are being felt and the sacrifices our businesses have endured."
"We know as we do better with stopping the spread of the virus that we can get back to some sense of normal," Niemann continued.
However, Niemann cautions that it wouldn’t take much for the community to slip backward and again asks people to be vigilant about wearing a mask, washing hands, and limiting social interactions.