Gov. Bullock details efforts to support MT tourism industry during COVID-19 pandemic

Steve Bullock
Posted at 2:51 PM, May 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-28 20:26:11-04

HELENA — Gov. Steve Bullock held a press conference in Helena to discuss efforts to support state tourism during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Bullock announced additional resources for community testing and contact tracing in high-visitation communities, an informational campaign to educate visitors on responsible travel, and a grant program for small businesses across the state to implement safety measures.

“As we enter the next phase of Montana’s reopening, we are asking the same of our visitors as we do from Montanans – heed state and local guidelines, engage in public health precautions, and exercise patience as tourism communities gradually welcome visitors back,” Gov. Bullock said. “We must all continue to work together to ensure that we can move forward together, while protecting our residents and businesses alike.”

The governor also announced he’s sent a letter to Yellowstone National Park’s Superintendent Cam Sholly requesting that the park reopen access to and from the park to visitors at the Cooke City, Gardiner, and West Yellowstone gates effective June 1.

“I appreciate the coordination that Yellowstone National Park has provided with state and local officials as we’ve developed a reopening approach that more fully integrates the needs of Montana’s gateway communities,” Gov. Bullock said.

Watch the full press conference below.

Gov. Bullock discusses tourism industry support during COVID-19 pandemic

According to Gov. Bullock, the state will be providing support to destination communities in the following ways:

  • Implementing community snapshot testing for frontline workers at no cost with need determined by local jurisdictions.
  • Providing resources to local providers for community testing to develop an early warning system for identifying new cases.
  • Assistance with contact tracing in the event of a positive test. Montana National Guard members currently on Title 32 orders have been directed to take online contact tracing course and obtain a certificate, adding an additional 150 contact tracers if needed.
  • Offering financial assistance for safety measures to small businesses to better protect their customers and workers.
  • Public education outreach campaign, including resources for communities, tourism promotion organizations, employers and employees.

The destination communities – which were determined through analysis of typical visitor travel in the state over the period from June-September -- are: Cascade, Ravalli, Lewis and Clark, Flathead, Yellowstone, Missoula, Silver Bow, Sanders, Lake, Custer, Gallatin, Dawson, Carbon, Big Horn, Glacier, Madison, Beaverhead, Park, Mineral, and Richland. Other counties will be eligible based on identified needs.

Beginning Monday, June 1, additional financial assistance through two new programs will be available, according to a news release.

  • The Montana Business Adaptation Program will provide reimbursement for COVID-19 expenses related to keeping staff and businesses safe – from the purchase of personal protective equipment to resources needed for staff to work remotely. Eligible small businesses must be Montana-based, have incurred eligible adaptation expenses since Feb. 15 due to COVID-19, and be in good standing. Total funding available is $20 million, the maximum reimbursement amount per business is $5,000. Eligible costs include communications tools, remote work equipment, business adaptations required to allow for better cleaning and social distancing, cleaning supplies, and travel/hotel costs related to quarantining workers.
  • The Tourism Education Program will make available $15 million in CARES Act funding to carry out a statewide informational campaign to educate visitors prior to and after arriving in Montana. The Department of Commerce, in coordination with the Department of Public Health and Human Services, is leading this effort. Commerce will be working with local tourism partners across the state to deliver this public health and safety message to visitors.

Additional information can be found here. The application for the Business Adaptation Program will be available on Monday, June 1.

Gov. Bullock said on May 19 that “Phase 2” of Montana’s reopening after COVID-19 shutdowns will start June 1 – including the lifting of a required 14-day quarantine for out-of-state visitors.

Other changes in Phase 2 include allowing restaurants, bars, casinos and breweries to operate at 75% capacity, up from 50%, and allowing gatherings of up to 50 people, instead of 10, when social distancing can’t always be practiced.

The previously published "Re-opening The Big Sky" plan is divided into three phases.

Below is a summary of some of the key points of the second phase:

  • Gatherings may expand to 50 people.
  • Vulnerable populations should continue to follow stay home guidance.
  • Gyms / Pools / Hot Tubs can become operational.
  • In addition to houses of worship, other places of assembly can become operational under the group size restrictions and physical distancing guidelines in this phase.

Phase Two: Individuals and Employers

  • Avoid GATHERING in groups of more than 50 people in circumstances that do not readily allow for appropriate physical distancing.
  • NON-ESSENTIAL TRAVEL guidelines remain the same as PHASE ONE for individuals traveling into Montana and for Montanans returning home.
  • VULNERABLE INDIVIDUALS should continue to adhere to the stay home guidance.
  • Continue to ENCOURAGE TELEWORK as much as possible and where feasible but refer to guideline in PHASE ONE when telework is not possible.
  • SENIOR LIVING OR ASSISTED LIVING FACILITIES must continue to follow the guidelines of PHASE ONE.
  • CHILD CARE FACILITIES can increase capacity if physical distancing guidelines can be implemented.
  • ORGANIZED YOUTH ACTIVITES remain operational and should avoid GATHERING in groups of more than 50 people in circumstances that do not readily allow for appropriate physical distancing.
  • ALL BUSINESSES can remain operational and must adhere to physical distancing.
  • RESTAURANTS / BARS / BREWERIES / DISTILLERIES / CASINOS remain in the same operational status as PHASE ONE, but with an increase in capacity.
  • GYMS / POOLS / HOT TUBS can become operational with reduced capacity and only if they can adhere to strict physical distancing and they exercise frequent sanitation protocols.
  • OUTDOOR RECREATION remain in the same operational status as PHASE ONE.
  • PLACES OF ASSEMBLY can become operational with reduced capacity and must adhere to physical distancing. Avoid GATHERING in groups of more than 50 people in circumstances that do not readily allow for appropriate physical distancing.

Click here to read the full "Re-opening The Big Sky" plan.