Life may feel a little more normal in Belgrade next week, after the City Council voted Monday to begin lessening quarantine-related restrictions that have been in place for weeks.
At the recommendation of City Manager Ted Barkley, the council approved the resumption of in-person City Court hearings beginning May 11. City employees who have been working from home will return to City Hall next week, and the building doors will open to the public beginning May 18.
The council also voted to reopen restrooms and playground facilities in city parks beginning May 11, though signs will be posted warning that surfaces are not being sanitized regularly.
City Hall and the Belgrade Library have been closed since March 17 in an attempt to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. City parks have remained open, but “touch surfaces,” such as playground equipment, have been off limits.
City Court business has been conducted via video or telephone during the closure.
Two weeks ago, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock issued a plan to gradually reopen the state in phases. Barkley said his recommendations are consistent with the first phase that currently is in effect, as well as with guidelines put forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Gallatin City-County Health Department.
As of Monday, Barkley said, no new cases of COVID-19 had been diagnosed in Gallatin County for more than a week. But he warned that “If, all of a sudden, we have cases popping up, this (plan) may have to be modified.” Such changes to city policies between council meetings can be decided by at least three members of the Belgrade Disaster Emergency Service Committee, comprising Barkley, Police Chief E.J. Clark, city council members Jim Simon and Mike Meis, and Central Valley Fire Chief Ron Lindroth.
The council was split on whether to reopen playgrounds, with Mayor Russ Nelson and council member Kris Menicucci suggesting it would be better to wait until the 18th. The rest of the council voted to proceed with posting signs and reopening those areas on May 11. Playgrounds are allowed to open under the governor’s Phase 1 recommendations.
Reopening City Hall is contingent upon the arrival of protective equipment, including Plexiglas “sneeze screens” that will be installed at customer service windows. In addition, employees and patrons will be required to follow a set of safety protocols that are being written now, Barkley said.