Bullock announces phased plan for reopening, lifting stay home order Sunday with physical distancing encouraged

Gov. Steve Bullock announced his phased plan for the return to some semblance of normalcy on April 22.

“Our way of life has changed rapidly,” Bullock said in his press briefing. “Back in March, we knew that if we did not act, there would be dire consequences.”

[READ: Bullock’s phased plan]

[READ: Detailed guidance for bars and restaurants]

Bullock declared a state of emergency in Montana on March 12, school closures came a few days later, then restrictions on bars and restaurants. By March 27, he issued a stay home directive.

As a result of the state’s actions, Bullock said Montana has a low number of positive cases and hospitalizations per capita.

“Together, we made that decline in cases possible,” he said. “We’ve gone to great lengths,” for healthcare providers, emergency responders, grocery store workers and other frontline responders.

Local leaders beginning discussions on what reopening will look like in Cascade County

Beginning Sunday, the stay home order will be lifted, but people should avoid gathering in large groups. Worship facilities can begin services, but should also continue with physical distancing and other health guidelines.

Phase one guidelines begin April 27. Bullock said he’s not putting an expiration date on phase one and will instead monitor the situation before deciding to move to phase two.

Local communities may impose stricter guidelines based on their own conditions.

“I ask you to respect those decisions,” Bullock said.

The Cascade County City-County Health Department is working with community leaders and business to get feedback for more local specifics, but CCHD will largely follow the governor’s timeline, according to CCHD.

CCHD is planning to post a video tonight, April 22, that may have more details.

As we open up things, there will likely be an increase in cases, Bullock said, but can help prevent large outbreaks with continued social distancing.

“We’re not in the clear yet,” he said.

Bullock said he recognizes some would like to keep everything closed until there’s a vaccine or the virus goes way. But why now, because Montanans can take pride in what we’ve done already in acting aggressively and collectively, Bullock said.

“We need to figure out ways to get to what a new normal might look like,” Bullock said and that his plan is measured steps to do so.

The state plan encourages local official to coordinate on a regional basis to meet the criteria of public health by evaluating new cases over time, conducting active monitoring and contact tracing and public health surveillance; having the ability in local hospitals to safely treat all patients, COVID-19 and otherwise and have adequate intensive care unit capacity; and supplies to test all people with COVID-19 symptoms and have adequate personal protective equipment for healthcare providers and first responders.

Local jurisdictions can enact guidelines that are more restrictive than the state’s but not less so.

“Once we begin to reopen, we want to be able to stay open,” Bullock said.

The plan gives all schools the option to return to in classroom teaching beginning May 7, but with the consideration of implementing an alternative model with a hybrid of in person and remote learning; providing focused individual education, especially for at risk students; meeting the needs of students who fall behind in a remote environment; maintaining connections between students, teachers and parents; the role that schools plan in health; and graduation environments that can meet social distancing requirements.

Bullock said the decision on whether to return to classrooms is left to local school districts and school boards based.

The Great Falls Public Schools board will discuss the issue during their April 27 work session at 4 p.m., according to Superintendent Tom Moore. During the meeting, the board will consider input from school staff and health officials on aspects of reopening.

The board will not take any action during that meeting, but will hold a special meeting on May 4 at 5:30 p.m. for the sole purpose of making a decision on continuing remote learning or reopening schools during the month of May, according to an update from GFPS on Wednesday evening.

Bullock’s plan includes recommending that people practice good hygiene with frequent hand washing, avoid touching their face and staying home when sick, essentially the same recommendations public health has been making for the last six weeks in Montana.

Guidelines for all employers during all phases include:

  • developing and implementing appropriate policies, in accordance with federal, state and local regulations and guidance, and informed by industry best practices, regarding:
    • social distancing and protective equipment;
    • temperature checks and/or symptom screening;
    • collaborate with public health on testing, isolating, and contact tracing;
    • sanitation;
    • use and disinfection of common and high traffic areas.

Employers should also monitor employees for symptoms and now allow people with symptoms of COVID-19 to work.

Employer should also collaborate with public health officials when implementing policies and procedures for workforce contact tracing if an employee tests positive for COVID-19.

Under phase one, retail and other businesses can become operations on or after April 27, with reduce capacity and strict physical distancing.

Gyms, pools, hot tubs must remain closed. Other public places like movie and performance theaters, concert halls, bowling alleys, bingo halls, etc, must remain closed.

In Bullock’s phase one, all vulnerable individuals should continue to follow the stay home guidance and members of those households should be aware they could bring the virus home if they return to work or other environments where social distancing isn’t practical. Precautions should continue to be taken to isolate vulnerable individuals, which are considered to be those over 65 years of age and/or those with serious underlying health conditions, including high blood pressure, chronic lung disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma, and those whose immune system is compromised such as by chemotherapy for cancer and other conditions requiring such therapy.

All individuals should maximize physical distance from others when in public and avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people when physical distancing isn’t possible.

Non-essential travel should be minimized and the guidelines for inbound travelers quarantining is still in effect, under Bullock’s phase one plan.

In phase one, employers should continue to encourage telework whenever possible and when it’s not, alternate work schedules such as shift work and staggered scheduling is recommended to allow for social distancing guidelines.

Common areas where employees would congregate should be closed or strict social distancing should be enforced. Non-essential business travel should be minimized and special accommodations should be made for members of a vulnerable population of those with vulnerable household members.

Under phase one, restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries and casinos can become operational on or after May 4 under strict physical distancing and reduced capacity protocols.

Bullock said he delayed the opening of bars and restaurants by another week at the request of public health officials and also businesses themselves so they have time to prepare.

“They need the time to get this right,” Bullock said.

All patrons must be out of bars, restaurants and casinos by 11:30 p.m.

Under phase one, restuarants and bars must limit capacity to 50 percent of normal operating capacity to allow for adequate spacing. Tables must be limited to six people per table and there must be six feet of physical distance between groups or tables.

In-house dining for quick service restaurants should remain closed if they can’t meet all of the guidelines.

Sitting or standing at bars or counters is not allowed.

Senior living or assisted living facilities must continue to prohibit visitors under phase one.

Childcare facilities can remain operations, but should follow state and local guidelines regarding operational levels and occupancy.

Organized youth activities can consider becoming operational if physical distancing can be implemented and they should avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 in circumstances that don’t allow for physical distancing.