Health regulations shut down live performances for Symphony, GFPS; Bullock announces new medical teams in Great Falls, other communities; The Square adjusting hours for COVID-19 exposure

The new health restrictions adopted by the Cascade County City-County Board of Health have shut down live performances of the Great Falls Symphony for the time being.

The health board voted last week to reduce event sizes to a maximum of 50, regardless of indoor or outdoor and regardless of the ability to distance.

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Hillary Rose Shepherd, the symphony’s executive director, wrote that “safety has always been our top priority for our patrons, musicians, and staff. Although we feel confident that the precautions we have put in place are preventing the spread of the coronavirus disease both on and off stage, we are taking our safety measures a step further by closing our live performances to the public for the time being.”

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The health restrictions went into effect Nov. 1 and will remain in effect until the county reaches a rate of new daily cases of 25 per 100,000 for four consecutive week. Last week, the rate was 64 per 100,000.

“Although we are saddened by the outcome of this vote, we accept the decision that was set forth by the Board of Health and we stand united in the fight against the spread of the disease in our community,” Shepherd wrote.

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On Nov. 2, Cascade County added another 42 cases, bringing the county’s total to 2,241. Of those, 1,295 are currently active. The county has had 30 COVID-19 related deaths, according to the Cascade County City-County Health Department.

Statewide, there were 757 new cases on Nov. 2, bringing the state total to 34,252, according to the state map. Of those, 12,370 are currently active. There have been 386 COVID-19 related deaths statewide.

The symphony performances will still be available online and more information on how to watch is available on the symphony website. Small lives audiences will still be allowed for the Chamber Music Series and information about that can be found here.

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The performing arts for the Great Falls Public Schools district have also made adjustments to adhere to the 50 person max at events, though school activities were exempt from the health order.

“The decision we made as a district, was that if this is what the county’s going to do, it’s what the district is going to do, it’s what we feel is the right thing,” said Dusty Molyneaux, GFPS music and arts supervisor. “We don’t want to have one set of rules for the district and different rules for everybody else.”

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Molyneaux said they’d postponed their performances of the musical Zombie Prom to January or February since three singers and a pit member from their small cast were contacts of positive cases and had to quarantine, missing rehearsals. 

Then the county health restrictions came out and Molyneaux said they wouldn’t be able to make enough money to recoup costs with audiences of 50 per performance.

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He said the high school holiday concerts will not have live audiences either, but will go online in some form so parents and families can watch.

“If we can only put 50 people in the audience, who do you put in there and it was just going to be a nightmare,” Molyneaux said.

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Putting the concerts online has its own challenges since when the district purchases copyrights and licenses for music it’s for live performances and they needed different approvals to put the performances online.

No middle school music concerts have been done since the audience size is typically 800-900 people and the elementary gyms are too small, so they aren’t doing any formal holiday programs this year, Molyneaux said.

“It’s a huge bummer but it’s what we’re stuck with and we’ve got to do our part in the school district to make sure the community is safe,” Molyneaux said. “We know that the public enjoys holiday shows, it’s a bummer for us, but we’re going to do our best to have an alternative and give parents and family members some holiday cheer.”

For now, GFPS is following direction as provided by the Montana High School Association in regard to winter sports.  Winter sports were originally scheduled to begin practice on Nov. 19 with competition to commence in early December, according to Mike Henneberg, GFPS athletic director. “The MHSA pushed back the start of practice to Dec. 7. Competition for winter sports will not begin until after the start of the new year for basketball, wrestling and swimming. We expect to hear further information regarding individual sport restrictions in the near future and will adjust competitive schedules accordingly.”

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CMR volleyball, Great Falls High volleyball and GFH football are all in post-season competition. GFPS hosts CMR volleyball vs. Belgrade on Tuesday while GFH travels to Billings West on Tuesday and their football team will travel to Missoula Sentinel on Friday, Henneberg said. 

“Our middle school boys basketball program is currently underway with games scheduled to begin on Saturday.  We continue to have conversations at the district and school level about additional safety precautions necessary to be in compliance with the directives given at the county level,” Henneberg said.

On Nov. 2, Gov. Steve Bullock announced that nursing teams secured last week from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are now assisting hospitals in central and eastern Montana communities.

The five teams, with at least five medical professionals per team, are on site and beginning to provide much needed assistance at the following hospitals:

  • Benefis Health System, Great Falls
  • Marias Medical Center, Shelby
  • Sidney Health Center, Sidney
  • Frances Mahon Deaconess Hospital, Glasgow
  • Billings Clinic, Billings

“Healthcare workers throughout the state are working tirelessly to care for Montanans hospitalized due to COVID-19 while performing their additional duties,” Bullock said in a release. “These nursing teams are stepping up to fill in the gaps with staffing shortages and help ensure that together as Montanans we can work to save lives. I ask that all Montanans do their part in taking precautions to slow the spread and support our healthcare workers.”

Teams may be deployed elsewhere depending on need.

Last week, officials from Benefis said they were at 104 percent capacity and Bullock said during a press briefing that Montana had secured five teams to support the state with nursing shortfalls due to the increasing number of healthcare workers testing positive or quarantined due to COVID-19. These teams will provide medical support to these key regional hospitals through temporary staffing.

The state requested the teams be in Montana for up to 30 days and operations are being coordinated through the Montana State Emergency Coordination Center, according to a release from Bullock’s office.

Due to COVID-19, The Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art is limiting hours at the museum and gift shop through Nov. 11 due to multiple main staff being exposed to COVID-19 and having to quarantine.

The temporary hours are:

  • Nov. 2: Closed
  • Nov. 3 and Nov. 10: Open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Nov. 4: Closed
  • Nov. 5: Closed
  • Nov. 6: Closed
  • Nov. 8: Open from noon to 5 p.m.

Normal business hours will resume Nov. 11.

“The safety of our staff and visitors is of great concern therefor we are following health department guidelines and are staying in contact with them during this time. The Square’s facilities manager and janitor have disinfected the museum, including the gift shop, cafe’, bathrooms and all education classrooms. The museum is being disinfected every four hours during museum hours, which mean all commonly touched surfaces such as doorknobs, front desk, bathrooms. All staff wear masks while in the building and visitors are required to wear masks while visiting the museum at all times and use the hand sanitizer stationed throughout the museum,” according to an email from the museum.