HELENA — Gov. Steve Bullock Tuesday said 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.
Yet the governor cautioned Montanans – and out-of-state visitors – to continue health precautions, saying progress made against the disease in recent weeks can be undone if those guidelines aren’t observed.
“We will be welcoming back visitors, with limited services and destinations open for business,” he said. “We want to make sure those visitors don’t bring problems from their home state to our state.”
The relaxing of travel restrictions come just as the summer tourism season gets under way in Montana. Bullock said he’ll be talking with Yellowstone National Park officials about opening the two gates into Montana, at Gardiner and West Yellowstone, at that time, but that opening dates for Glacier National Park have not been set.
The plan allowing out-of-state visitors to arrive in Montana without a quarantine will be augmented with a “robust public health plan” in tourist communities, including surveillance testing for COVID-19 among local employees, more contract-tracing resources when needed, and guidelines for tourism businesses.
“Every step that we take beyond a stay-at-home order and closing down all businesses indeed presents more risk of transmission,” Bullock said. “I certainly expect out-of-state visitors to take this as seriously as Montanans have.“
Tuesday’s announcement comes three weeks after Bullock started Phase 1 of the reopening in late April, and nearly two months after he issued a stay-at-home order in late March, shutting down non-essential businesses.
Since then, Montana’s infections of COVID-19 have leveled off. The state reported 471 cases as of May 19, including one new case, but had only 18 active cases of the disease statewide.
Bullock credited Montana’s “quick, early, aggressive action” with helping the state have the lowest per-capita infection and hospitalization rate in the nation for COVID-19.
Still, Bullock said the state must consider that health precautions to prevent the spread of the disease will become the “new normal” for Montanans.
“While (the disease) remains contained in Montana and new cases are relatively low, we must recognize that it is still with us and will be, for the foreseeable future” he said.
Other elements of Phase 2 of the re-opening include:
- Group gatherings of more than 50 people – such as high school graduations -- might be allowed if physical distancing can be maintained. Local public health officials should be consulted.
- Gyms, indoor fitness classes, pools and hot tubs can operate at 75 percent capacity if they can adhere to “strict physical distancing” and have frequent sanitation protocols.
- Concert halls, bowling alleys and other places of assembly can operate with reduced capacity and strict physical distancing.
- The Montana National Guard is still authorized to conduct temperature checks, assess people for COVID-19 symptoms and inquire about the exposure history of travelers arriving in Montana via air or rail service.
The state will assist with establishing the following protocols:
- Surveillance testing of employees.
- Enhanced contact tracing resources deployed to these areas as requested by local authorities.
- Ability to surge personal protective equipment to impacted health care systems.
- Guidelines for operation for business that see high-tourist activity.
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. home directive
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.