Bullock implements new COVID-19 restrictions for bars, restaurants; gathering sizes

Gov. Steve Bullock has issued a new directive with additional restrictions in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the state.

Beginning at 5 a.m. Nov. 20, restaurant, bars, breweries, distilleries and casinos must reduce operations to 50 percent capacity and close no later than 10 p.m.

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Cascade County already implemented measures reducing capacity at bars and restaurants, etc. to 50 percent. The City-County Board of Health implemented those measures effective Nov. 1.

Bullock’s order also limits groups to six people per table; requires six feet of physical distancing between groups and tables.

Gyms and movie theaters are not included in Bullock’s order, but the county’s restrictions that went into effect Nov. 1 already limit those to 50 percent capacity.

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Bullock’s directive limits public gatherings and events to 25 individuals or fewer where distancing isn’t possible or observed. Anyone planning an event with more than 25 people should consult their local public health office on a plan to implement adequate distancing, according to the directive.

Cascade County had reduced event and gatherings to a maximum of 50 people beginning Nov. 1.

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This change doesn’t apply to existing requirements for houses of worship or those for public and private K-12 schools.

The 25 person limit doesn’t apply to bars, restaurants, breweries, distilleries and casinos operating under the other section of Bullock’s directive.

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“Though the group size limit applies only to public gatherings and events involving more than 25 people where social distancing is not possible or observed, Montanans are urged in the strongest terms to limit their involvement in any in-person gatherings of 15 or more people—including private gatherings inside a home. Such gatherings are a significant contributor to the spread of the virus,” according to Bullock’s directive. “Montanans are urged to practice social distancing in any gathering of any size outside their own household.”

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The county Board of Health’s current COVID-19 restrictions went into effect Nov. 1 and will remain in place until the county’s case rate drops to 25 per 100,000 for four consecutive weeks.

The number of cases in the county have continued to increase, but last week, the number of new cases by population was 83 per 100,000, down from 99 per 100,000 the previous weeks.

Bullock has also extended the face covering requirement to all counties regardless of their case count. His July 15 directive had only applied to counties with four or more active cases.

“We must find a way collectively as Montanans to make it through these coming winter months,” Bullock said in a Nov. 17 press briefing. “The situation is series in Montana. We need to turn things around over the next few months.”

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On Nov. 17, the state map added 540 new cases to Cascade County, though some of that is attributed to a backlog in reporting data to the state. That brings the county’s total to 4,133 cases.

“The large number of cases reported today are similar to the large amount reported on Saturday, November 14th (440). With the visit from the CDC last week to assist Cascade City County Health Department in streamlining our processes as well as the hiring of additional contact tracers, we have finally been able to shift some of our staff from contact tracing over to focusing on the data entry,” according to CCHD.

Of those, the state map shows that 3,363 cases are active, though that number is likely not quite accurate as the Cascade County City-County Health Department is still catching up on reporting their data to the state, Trisha Gardner, county health officer, told The Electric on Monday.

On Nov. 17, CCHD announced four more COVID-19 related deaths, bringing the county’s total to 56.

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Great Falls Public Schools are operating remotely this week in an attempt to slow their spread and allow teachers to come off quarantine. The district is planning to return to classrooms Nov. 30. As of Nov. 18, there were 63 active cases associated with the district.

Bullock also announced another round of Business Stabilization Grants to the existing businesses that have been vetted through the process and have received prior funding. A total of $75 million will be available to businesses.

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Businesses who have previously received those grants will receive an email inviting them to accept a third round of funding. To be eligible for funding, businesses must agree to comply with all state and local COVID-19 orders including requiring masks, social distancing, capacity and closing time restrictions, according to a release from Bullock’s office.

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Bullock said the state will also provide $25 million to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry to provide eligible Montanans who are unemployed or partially unemployed due to COVID-19 disruptions with a supplemental payment of $200 a week for four weeks beginning on the week ending Nov. 28 and ending Dec. 19. To receive this support, eligible recipients do not need to apply separately. Individuals will receive the benefit if they keep filing their regular payment requests in montanaworks.gov or mtpua.mt.gov.