Gianforte lifts closing, capacity restrictions for bars, restaurants; rules remain in effect in Cascade County
Gov. Greg Gianforte said during a Wednesday press conference that he’s lifting the 10 p.m. closing time and capacity restrictions on bars and restaurants, among other types of establishments, effective Jan. 15.
Those restrictions remain in place in Cascade County since the local Board of Health voted last week to maintain the existing Nov. 20 local health order that incorporated directives from then Gov. Steve Bullock’s restrictions on operating times and capacities for restaurants, bars, etc., the mask requirement, and limits on event and gathering sizes, as well as the county’s specific restrictions.
Gianforte said that “we can reduce the burden on our small business owners while simultaneously protecting the health of Montana workers and customers.”
He said that medical professionals supported lifting the capacity limits for restaurants and bars.
Dr. Ray Geyer, an infectious disease specialist at Great Falls Clinic and member of the county health board, has said repeatedly in public meetings that reducing gathering sizes is critical to reducing the virus’ spread but that the closing times weren’t as significant.
The county’s restrictions remain in place until either the state’s emergency declaration is lifted or the county reaches an average daily new case rate of 25 per 100,000 for four consecutive weeks. The county has hit that level for one week so far this year, but has trended back upward since.
The numbers appear to be increasing this week, which CCHD officials said tracks with the two-week mark since New Year’s festivities.
On Jan. 13, Cascade County added 97 cases, bringing the total to 7,044, according to the state map. Of those, 525 are currently active, according to the state.
Gianforte said last week that he would lift the mask mandate when more of the state’s vulnerable populations were vaccinated and he had legislation on his desk protecting businesses from lawsuits related to COVID. A bill to that effect has been introduced in the Montana Legislature, but is in the early phase of the process.
Gianforte said during his Jan. 13 press conference that 11 communities are preparing to move into Phase 1b next week for vaccine distribution, but when asked, said he didn’t have the names of those communities.
Cascade County City-County Health Department said this week that the county will complete the first phase of the vaccination plan this week and move into the next phase beginning next week.
Anna Attaway, CCHD spokesperson, said that officials from CCHD, Benefis Health System, the Great Falls Clinic and Alluvion Health have been meeting to finalize the plan for Phase 1b vaccine distribution.
There will be a process for individuals to sign up to receive the vaccine, but at this time there is no formal waiting list and the agency and healthcare providers will release more details on the plan for the next phase as soon as it’s finalized, which could be later this week or early next week. Until then, residents are asked to refrain from calling or showing up at healthcare providers asking about the vaccine as it slows down their efforts to manage the COVID-19 response and vaccination process.
In an effort to prevent any doses of the vaccine from going to waste, since it has to be used within a short amount of time once thawed and reconstituted, there was an informal waitlist at CCHD, that has been discontinued as the agency and healthcare providers prepare for Phase 1b.
As of Jan. 12, Gianforte said that about 42,000 Montanans have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and that by the end of the month, Walgreens was on track to provide the first dose to about 97 percent of the roughly 128 long term care facilities the pharmacy was responsible for. He said that CVS was handling vaccinations for the other half of long-term care facilities in the state.
Gen. Matthew Quinn, head of the state’s COVID-19 task force, said that the state is expecting about 6,400 first doses of the Moderna vaccine this week, and about 13,500 first doses of vaccines coming next week.
Gianforte said that statewide, there are more than 70,000 first doses, which is in excess of the entire 1a category.
Gianforte’s directive also replaces the 25-person limit on public gatherings with simple guidance that “any public gatherings or events should be managed in a way that accommodates CDC social distancing guidelines.”