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By Tim Leeds 

Montana phased re-opening to begin Sunday


April 23, 2020

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock gave in a press conference Wednesday an outline of the state’s plan for a phased re-opening of businesses, schools, churches and other organizations and activities with some restrictions starting to lift Sunday.

He warned that the first phase still has many restrictions in place, and local jurisdictions can have more stringent restrictions than the state requires, depending on the situation by community or region.

“Our new normal is going to look different,” Bullock said. “This virus isn’t gone for Montana.”

He said the first thing he wanted to focus on is what will not change: People are asked to continue handwashing, sanitizing surfaces, watching for symptoms and calling a medical provider if the symptoms arise, using nonmedical face masks if out in the public and minimizing nonessential travel.

“And watching out for our neighbors,” he said.

He said care must be taken as restrictions start to loosen.

“Once we begin to re-open we want to be able to stay open,” Bullock said.

Bullock said the reasons for relaxing the stay-at-home order go beyond just looking at numbers, but credited the actions of local governments and Montanans themselves for the success in slowing the spread of the virus.

He said Montana has some of the lowest numbers of COVID-19 cases in the nation, both in real numbers and in per-capita numbers. The same is true of hospitalizations, he said.

“We have flattened that curve and saved lives,” he said. ‘… These collective actions allowed us to get to where we are today.”

The outline of the plan says it is based on up-to-date data and preparedness, mitigates the risk of resurgence, protects the most vulnerable people in Montana and it can be adjusted as desired by local governments which can continue or later enact more stringent restrictions if needed.

It also can be adjusted as time toes on based on what is happening locally or regionally, the outline said.

That includes monitoring public health by evaluation of new cases as confirmed and by the area’s ability to conduct active monitoring and tracing, the outline said. It also will be based on the ability of hospitals to treat all patients and and their intensive care unit capacity. The availability of supplies to test people with COVID-19 symptoms and personal protective equipment also will be a factor.

The Phase One guidelines say vulnerable people should continue to follow the stay-at-home guidance, and members of their household should keep in mind they could carry the virus back home.

All people not from the same household should maximize distance from others when in public, avoid gathering in groups larger than 10 people if distancing is not easily done and must minimize non-essential travel and follow Montana guidelines regarding quarantine.

The guidelines, for all phases, include people continuing to practice good hygiene including washing hands frequently with soap and water or hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol, avoiding touching their face, sneezing into a tissue or inner elbow, disinfecting items and surfaces and “strongly” considering using non-medical face coverings when in public.

People who feel sick should stay at home and contact and follow the advice of their medical provider and follow local health department guidance on isolation and quarantine.

Senior living or assisted living facilities must continue to prohibit visitors, including screening staff for symptoms and not allowing ill workers from returning.

Places of assembly like movie theaters, concert halls, bowling alleys and bingo halls must remain closed.

Organized youth activities are allowed if physical distancing guidelines can be followed. People should avoid gathering in groups large than 10 people if social distancing is difficult.

Child care facilities can operate, but need to follow state and local guidelines on operation levels and occupancy.

Under Phase One, places of worship can become operational Sunday with reduced capacity and where physical distancing can be maintained between non-household members.

Main street and retail businesses can open next Monday with reduced capacity and where strict physical distancing protocols can be followed, the outline said.

The guidelines say health assessments must be performed on all employees at the start of each shift.

In businesses where customers wait in lines, people not from the same household should remain physically distanced.

In the facilities, to allow physical distancing of at least 6 feet may require a reduction in capacity; a reduction of seating in service and waiting areas; management of waiting areas and waiting lines; or systems that reduce the amount of contact time between customers and staff.

The guidelines say employers should develop and implement polices on social distancing and protective equipment; temperature checks and symptom screening; collaborate with public health on testing, isolating and contact tracing; sanitation, and using disinfectant on common and high-traffic areas.

People with symptoms of COVID-19 should not be allowed to work, the outline said.

Employers are asked to encourage telework when possible and feasible and, when not, to accomodate alternate work schedules such as shift work and staggered schedules; to minimize non-essential business travel and to make special accommodations for people in a vulnerable population or who have vulnerable household members

In Phase One, restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries and casinos can open May 4 under strict distancing and reduced capacity, and all patrons must be out of bars, restaurants and casinos by 11:30 p.m.

The guidelines include specific requirements including using a specific cleaning plan and surfaces occupied and used must be cleaned between customers; restaurants must limit capacity to 50 percent of normal and tables must be limited to six people per table, with at least six feet between groups. Self-service buffets must be closed.

Sitting or standing at bars or counters is not allowed and drinks and food must be served to the customers at a table in a bar.

Gaming machines must be separated by seven feet center-to-center.

Salons, massage and body art studios and so on require additional precautions due to the close contact, the guidelines say. Customers must be screened and any with symptoms should be rescheduled, staff and customers should use a face mask where possible, and the business should provide for six feet of spacing between stations.

Beginning May 7, all K-12 public schools will have the option to return to in-classroom teaching.

The outline includes issues the schools should consider including providing alternate education deliver, the importance of maintaining connections between students, teachers and parents, and the role that schools play in the health of students, families and communities.

The guidelines include many suggestions for school districts to consider, such as using face masks by staff and students, reducing bus loads, keeping students with the same group and in the same classroom, rotating teachers and suggestions for graduation.

While the plan includes a second and third phase of the re-opening, Bullock said, monitoring and testing will continue as the re-openings occur and how it goes will determine how things will progress.

“I’m not putting an expiration date on Phase One,” he said.

Bullock also said that when the state would move to the next phases, or go back to more restrictive conditions, depends on what the state sees with the spread of the virus as restrictions are loosened.

“Note, please, that none of this is carved in stone,” he said.

The full outline of the phased reopening and guidelines for reopening are available on the state COVID-19 pages at http://www.covid19.mt.gov .


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