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Phase Two of Montana's re-opening to begin June 1


Gov. Steve Bullock provided details during a press conference Tuesday on Phase Two of “Re-opening the Big Sky” which is planned to go into effect June 1.

Bullock said a number of guidelines in Phase One will remain in effect during Phase Two.

He said telework is still encouraged for businesses wherever feasible and social distancing at work and otherwise is still encouraged where possible.

Business and outdoor recreation must still follow local public health guidelines.

Bullock said under Phase Two vulnerable people, like those over 65 and the immunocompromised, should continue to stay home and nursing home visitation is still prohibited in most cases.

“I know that this is difficult. I’ve heard from residents in long-term care facilities,” Bullock said. “I also know that 80 percent of the fatalities that happened in Minnesota happened in long-term care facilities. … As difficult as it is, we are doing that to protect the most vulnerable.”

Under Phase One, gatherings of 10 or fewer people were permitted in environments where physical distancing was unfeasible. Bullock said that number will rise to 50 under Phase Two.

He added that events with more than 50 people could be held if strict physical distancing could be maintained.

He recommended that people interested in such events contact local public health departments to see how or if such a thing would be possible.

“Events with more than 50 people should be cancelled unless physical distancing can be maintained,” he said.

Bullock said, under Phase Two, restaurants, breweries, bars, casinos and other establishments of that nature can increase their dinning area capacity to 75 percent.

He said, gyms and indoor fitness establishments including pools can do the same if they can enforce strict physical distancing.

He said even though the period between Phase One and Two was five weeks, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be five weeks between Two and Three.

Bullock said the situation requires continued observation before decisions like that are made in that regard.

He also talked about the impending re-opening of some tourist destinations and what preparations are being made for that.

He said the current plan is to re-open the Montana gates to Yellowstone National Park June 1, with details on Glacier National Park coming soon.

Bullock said as part of Phase Two, the 14-day quarantine for people coming to Montana from out of state will be lifted, but the Montana National Guard will continue screenings for out-of-state travelers.

He said the state is prepared to work with destination communities to deal with increased visitation, and is preparing to potentially set up test centers and a surveillance testing plan for detecting community spread as well as contingency plans for dealing with sick visitors.

Bullock also said a state-wide campaign is being developed to inform tourists on responsibly travel, with a focus on knowing local guidelines.

“While our economy certainly relies on, and we appreciate, our visitors, we want to make sure that those visitors don’t bring problems from their home state to our state,” he said.

Bullock also asked future visitors as well as Montana residents to respect the rules of the state’s tribal communities, many of which have more restrictive guidelines in place.

“Many of our tribal communities still have stay-at-home orders in place or other more restrictive measures,” he said, “I ask that Montanans and any visitors coming into our state honor those restrictions. Our tribal nations have my full support as they decide what’s best to keep their communities safe and healthy.”

Bullock also provided an update on the state’s continuing efforts to contain the virus.

He said Montana’s situation is a result of early and aggressive action that have put the state in a position to begin re-opening and that position has not changed yet, though he did urge continued caution.

“While the virus remains contained in Montana at this time, and new cases are relatively low, we must recognize that the virus is still with us, and will be for the foreseeable future,” Bullock said, “ … We still need Montanans to be in this together.”

He said people should continue to wear cloth masks when in high-density areas and maintain social distance otherwise.

He also said people who are sick should continue to self-quarantine and everybody should continue to wash their hands often and thoroughly.

“Montanans who have been engaging in these habits, and thankfully they are becoming habits for us, since the start of this pandemic should continue to do so and those who have not should start making a habit of it now,” Bullock said.

He said the state averaged 500 tests a day last week representing an increase in test rates from last week.

He said he expects this number to continue to climb in the coming weeks and months.

Bullock said more tests are being sent to long-term care facilities, tribal communities and other vulnerable populations.

He also mentioned that tests performed on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in a drive-through test event last weekend will have results by the end of the week.

Bullock said he was recently given a report from the state epidemiologist that updated him on contact tracing efforts through May 1 and how local jurisdictions were handling it, especially in smaller counties.

“Nearly half of Montana’s cases were identified through contact tracing,” he said.

He said the state is looking to increase the number of people used for contact tracing in the coming weeks.

Bullock also said the state got a shipment of 500,000 N95 masks for health care workers Monday to be distributed by need through the state.

He also announced that two temporary care facilities had been built, in Billings and Kalispell, to take some stress off of the hospitals if there was an outbreak.

“This is just a precaution, one that we haven’t needed at any time during this pandemic and one we hope we will never need,” he said.

Bullock said the actions taken by the state at the beginning of the pandemic have provided the state with time enough to improve its situation and prepare for possible outbreaks.

“I feel confident that the stay-at-home order, and the first gradual phase of our re-opening gave us the time that we needed to bolster our preparations and our response,” he said.

Bullock said he appreciates how so many businesses and individuals are handling the situation and how seriously they are taking things like social distancing, but anecdotally he has heard of some that are not following the guidelines set forth by the state or their local public health department.

“Montanans and businesses need to understand that these guidelines, which were developed in consultation with both public health and business representatives, are in place to protect people from COVID-19 and allow us to move forward with the phases,” he said, “Not following these guidelines is what will get us into trouble. Not following guidelines will put us in a position to go backwards.”

Despite this Bullock said he’s confident that Montana can remain in the relatively positive position it has been in if Montanans and those who may visit during Phase Two continue their efforts.

He noted that Montana has the lowest number of confirmed cases and hospitalizations per capita in the country.

“Montana truly has been an example for the nation in our response to this global pandemic. 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,” he said.

However, he said, even as the state becomes increasingly re-opened the question of when things will truly return to normal is still open, especially without a vaccine in place.


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