Governor Steve Bullock today announced a gradual and phased reopening of the state beginning Sunday for individuals, and extending to businesses on Monday.
“There are very few states in the country that can say they have seen the number of positive cases decline over these past weeks. Montana can say that because, together, we have made that decline in cases possible,” Governor Bullock said. “While there is reason for optimism this is not a time for celebration. I am going to ask Montanans to continue to go to great lengths to protect one another, to continue looking out for our neighbors who need it the most, and to continue being vigilant in every step we take.”
The plan to reopen gradually was is based on the latest scientific evidence and data, and in consultation with public health experts, health care providers, business leaders, and emergency management professionals. The Governor’s plan is detailed in a Directive and accompanying Appendix with guidelines for certain industries.
“The Montana business community appreciates the Governor’s leadership over the course of the COVID19 pandemic. The Montana Chamber of Commerce supports a phased approach to re-opening our economy, while still maintaining health standards and containing the spread of COVID-19. Montana businesses are capable of being flexible and partnering with our colleagues and employees to address the challenges that this may pose, and are eager to open our doors once again,” Todd O’Hair, President/CEO of the Montana Chamber of Commerce, said.
“Local public health continues to work closely with Governor Bullock and our state partners to work towards a systematic reopening of Montana that minimizes the risk of viral spread. We appreciate the partnerships we have all across the state, which in no doubt, will continue to serve Montanans,” Hillary Hanson, Public Health Officer at the Flathead City-County Health Department, said.
“Montana and its hospitals moved swiftly and thoughtfully to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and the results of this effort is demonstrated by a lower incidence of the virus in Montana when compared to our neighboring states. Our hospitals responded to this public health emergency and remain prepared to serve our patients and communities and assist in restarting our economy,” Rich Rasmussen, President and CEO of the Montana Hospital Association, said.
“Because of Montana’s aggressive approach of shutting everything down early in the pandemic, we are in the fortuitous position of having a very low viral burden in the state. With that being said, I feel assured that a cautious, vigilant, and step wise approach to opening up our healthcare, commerce, and education sectors could be attempted. Keep in mind that for every two steps forward we might need to take a step back, but it is in everyone’s best interest that we try,” Dr. Marc Mentel, president of the Montana Medical Association, said.
Montana’s plan to reopen relies on Montanans to adhere to social distancing guidelines whenever possible and to continue to limit gatherings. Guidance remains in place for members of vulnerable groups to continue to shelter at home, though it is no longer mandatory. Additionally, visitation at nursing homes will continue to be suspended and older Montanans and those who are immunocompromised should continue to follow the stay at home directive.
“Our new normal is going to look different. This virus isn’t gone from Montana. So as we turn to support our main street businesses and get more families back to work during this time – as we should – we must also be sure to continue looking out for those around us and protecting everyone around us,” Governor Bullock said. “Once we begin to reopen, we want to be able to stay open. Our personal responsibility to protect those around us – particularly those most vulnerable – remains just as important as any time during this pandemic.”
The stay at home order will expire on April 26 for individuals and April 27 for businesses. Main street and retail businesses can become operational on or after April 27 if they can adhere to requirements to limit capacity and maintain strict physical distancing. Employers are directed to develop policies to keep employees and customers safe including teleworking when possible, enforcing social distancing protocols, and other measures as provided in an appendix of reopening guidelines.
Places of worship can become operational on April 26 in a manner consistent with social distancing between people who are not members of the same household. Restaurants, bars, breweries, and distilleries can begin providing some in-establishment services beginning May 4.
Businesses where groups gather without the ability to social distance including movie theaters, gyms, and other places of assembly remain closed.
On May 7, all schools will have the option to return to in-classroom teaching delivery at the discretion of local school boards. The Directive does not preclude school boards from declaring local emergencies to continue to receive all appropriate state funding to continue to provide remote learning.
Montana’s travel quarantine will remain in effect and out of state travelers and residents arriving from another state or country back to Montana for non-work related purposes are required to quarantine for 14 days.
The Directive does not prohibit more restrictive local ordinances, and encourages local officials to work regionally and make local adjustments as local needs demand.
Montana has aggressively managed the virus with a series of actions including suspending nursing home visitation, closing schools, closing higher risk businesses such as bars, restaurants, gyms and movie theaters, and enacting a stay at home order. As a result, Montana has the lowest percentage of positive cases per capita when compared to its population and the lowest number of hospitalizations per capita in the nation.
The plan includes several phases and details the factors that will determine when it is appropriate to move to the second phase of reopening. This decision will be driven by conditions on the ground and the latest data. Governor Bullock and his task force will continue to monitor cases closely and carefully to analyze Montana’s work to contain the virus.
The Directive and its Appendix with reopening guidelines are posted online at covid19.mt.gov.