BILLINGS — A new order from Yellowstone County Health Officer John Felton placed tighter restrictions on capacity at restaurants, group gatherings and places of worship Monday, after the county exceeded the 565 new cases per week per 100,000 population threshold set last week.
Bars, restaurants, food courts, cafes, breweries, and wineries will be required to close no later than 12:30 a.m. Felton walked back capacity to 75% at those establishments, the same level it is currently, from 25% earlier in the week after speaking with local business owners.
The size of public or private group gatherings was limited to 25 people. Places of worship are capped at 50% capacity and must comply with masking and physical distance requirements. The terms of the health officer order take effect on Oct. 14 at 8 a.m. and be re-evaluated in four weeks, Felton said.
If the COVID-19 case trend continues upward, Felton said another more restrictive order would be considered.
Felton said he issued the health officer order to slow COVID-19 spread across Yellowstone County, which has the highest number of active cases in the state at 1,487 on Monday, according to the state tracking map.
Last week, Felton said he'd issue new restrictions if the weekly rate of infection per 100,000 population rises above 40 at the end of October, or if the rate rose above 50 during any week. On Friday, new cases reached 598, above the 50% threshold that would trigger more restrictions.
The restrictions also aim to slow the burden of COVID-19 patients in the local hospitals, Felton said. Since Oct. 1, the Billings hospitals have seen between 81 and 96 COVID-19 patients on any given day, Felton said.
Felton was joined at the press conference by members of the medical/technical team, made up of local infectious disease doctors and leadership from Billings Clinic and SCL Health St. Vincent Healthcare. Felton said he worked with the team to draft the health officer order.
Felton said the restrictions of Phase 2 of Montana Gov. Steve Bullock's plan to reopen the state are not having the desired effect in Yellowstone County. That's part of the reason for the new restrictions, he said.
People have seen wait times for contact tracing rise to between 24-to-48 hours, Felton said. That is another reason for the restrictions to try and slow the spread. Felton urged people to keep up with the safety protocols of masking, hand washing, sanitation and physical distancing to slow the spread across the county.
Watch the full news conference below: