County health board votes to change COVID-19 regulations effective Jan. 22

The Cascade County City-County Board of Health has adjusted the COVID-19 restrictions in the county.

During a special Jan. 20 meeting, the board voted to expand operating capacity to 75 percent for restaurants, cafes, coffee houses, bars, casinos, gyms, movie theatres, etc. and they may stay open until 12:30 a.m.

Those changes go into effect at 5 a.m. Jan. 22 and will remain in effect until the county reaches an average new case rate of 25 per 100,000 for four consecutive weeks.

The mask mandate remains in effect statewide.

As of Jan. 20, the case rate for the last week was 27 per 100,000.

Last week, the county’s rate is 44 per 100,000.

The positivity rate for the county is currently 11.5 percent, according to CCHD.

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The county hit the 25 per 100,000 rate for one week at the end of December, but the rate has climbed upward again for several weeks until dropping again last week to the current 27 per 100,000 rate.

Childcare facilities, schools and food service establishments such as school cafeterias, hospitals and care facilities, crisis shelters, airport concessions, hotel room service and other similar operations are exempt from the occupancy and closing time rules.

The board also voted to allow up to 50 people for events and gatherings anywhere. The board voted to allow gatherings of 50-250 indoors and gatherings of 50-500 outdoors, both with the approval of an event plan packet from the Cascade County City-County Health Department.

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Those event plan packets were in use by CCHD last year before then Gov. Bullock limited event sizes to 25 people or less.

Trisha Gardner, county health officer, recommended that change and said, “we are moving back in the right direction and those plans were working well previously. I would be very comfortable with seeing those again.”

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The board discussed changing the event rule or voting on a provision to expand the allowable indoor event size to 75 percent capacity of a venue or create exceptions for some circumstances, but decided to wait until the next regular board of health meeting in February to revisit the matter.

The Jan. 20 vote takes the closing time for bars and restaurants back to Bullock’s phased reopening plan before he cut it to 10 p.m. in mid-November.

The county health board had approved in late October rules that restricted event sizes to 50 people or less and limited operating capacity to 50 percent for businesses. Those restrictions have been in place since Nov. 1, until Bullock imposed a the stricter limit of 25 people for gatherings.

In the fall, the county was experiencing a spike in COVID-19 cases and the Great Falls Public Schools district went remote for two weeks before Thanksgiving.

As of Jan. 19, there were 17 active cases within GFPS.