HELENA (AP) — Montana will further ease coronavirus restrictions in two weeks by lifting a 14-day quarantine for out-of-state visitors, allowing groups of up to 50 people to gather and allowing more people inside restaurants, bars and gyms, Gov. Steve Bullock said Tuesday.
“Montana has been an example for the rest of the nation in our response to this global pandemic,” Bullock said. “I have no doubt that we can continue to be that example, but only if Montanans, businesses, and visitors alike continue to take seriously the responsibility we all have in protecting others,”
The Democratic governor said the state has the lowest rate of COVID-19 and hospitalizations per capita in the nation. His comments came before Ravalli County health officials reported a cluster of at least six new cases, with three more tests pending from a group of people who had traveled together.
Before the new Ravalli County cases, Montana had confirmed 471 cases of COVID-19. There were 18 known active cases, including five people hospitalized, the state health department said. Sixty-five people have been hospitalized and 16 have died.
The state is in its second phase of reopening the economy, which began at the end of April with nonessential businesses and churches allowed to resume limited services and gatherings of up to 10 people.
In those three weeks, Montana has reported 22 additional cases of COVID-19 and one death as it has continued to ramp up testing and acquire protective equipment for medical personnel. The state’s most recent death was on April 28 in Yellowstone County and involved a man who had been hospitalized since late March.
Starting on June 1, restaurants and bars will be able to operate at 75% capacity and groups of more than 50 people won’t be allowed to gather unless they can practice social distancing, he said.
Gyms, indoor group fitness classes, pools and hot tubs can operate at 75% capacity if they can adhere to strict physical distancing and they exercise frequent sanitation protocols. Concert halls, bowling alleys and other places of assembly may operate with reduced capacity under the same distancing guidelines.
Montana is in talks with Yellowstone National Park officials to possibly reopen the three Montana gates into the park on June 1. Wyoming’s two Yellowstone gates opened Monday.
As Montana prepares to lift its restrictions on out-of-state visitors, national park gateway communities and other areas that draw tourists will have additional testing and tracing capability and the ability to quarantine or isolate anyone who tests positive for COVID-19, Bullock said. He asked that tourists not visit Montana if they are sick.
People over 65 or with underlying health conditions are still asked to stay home as much as possible under the second phase, employers are asked to allow employees to work from home if possible, and visits to nursing homes will continue to be suspended, except for certain compassionate care circumstances, Bullock said.
As always, residents are urged
to continue following social distancing and sanitation guidelines and wear a cloth face covering in places where social distancing isn’t practical.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
In other related developments:
• Republican legislative leaders wrote to Bullock Tuesday asking to meet with him to discuss state revenue forecasts and potential budget cuts. Last week, Bullock said the state did not need to make any across-the-board cuts, in part due to its current budget surplus and possible federal aid. The letter from Senate President Scott Sales, House Speaker Greg Hertz and others cited a Moody’s report that indicated the state could take a nearly $400 million budget hit in the next fiscal year, which starts in July. They encouraged Bullock to make some cuts now, to leave more cash reserves to soften the expected decline in revenue.
• Montana’s American Legion baseball teams plan to start playing games this week. Helena Senators coach Jon Burnett told the Independent Record that the Senators will begin the Class AA season on Wednesday night against the Missoula Mavericks at 7 p.m., weather permitting. Lewis and Clark County has approved a plan to allow fans to attend, with capacity limited at about 25%, Burnett said. The American Legion announced last week that it would not sponsor baseball nationally, but Montana’s Legion chairman Ron Edwards indicated the Legion partnership could still happen at the state level.
• Montana received a shipment of 500,000 N95 masks from the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Monday.