HELENA — Gov. Steve Bullock has announced a new set of statewide public health restrictions, aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus.
Bullock said Tuesday that, as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to spike across Montana and health care providers statewide are strained, leaders needed to take additional action.
“We’re all sick of this virus,” he said. “We all have to collectively recognize that this virus won’t stop spreading through our communities at any time soon – unless we take active steps to stop its spread. The responsibility for doing that rests with each and every one of us.”
The new rules will take effect Friday, Nov. 20, at 5 a.m. Starting then, bars, restaurants, breweries, distilleries and casinos will have to operate at no more than 50% capacity and close by 10 p.m. They will also have to limit each group of customers to six people or fewer and provide at least 6 feet of physical distancing between groups.
Public gatherings will be limited to 25 people whenever social distancing isn’t possible or isn’t being practiced. Anyone planning an event with more than 25 people would need to consult local public health officials for guidance. The directive does not change existing requirements for schools or for religious services.
While the 25-person limit applies only to public events where distancing isn’t observed, the directive also “urged in the strongest terms” that Montanans avoid gatherings of 15 people or more – including private gatherings inside a home – stating that those events are significant contributors to the spread of the virus.
In addition, Bullock extended his directive requiring most people to wear face coverings in certain spaces to all Montana counties. Previously, the rules only applied to counties that had four or more active COVID-19 cases. However, as of Tuesday, only Meagher and Treasure Counties had fewer cases and were exempted.
Bullock said Tuesday that, in order to address some of the impacts of the new restrictions, he would redirect unused COVID relief money from the federal CARES Act to additional aid for individuals and businesses.
The state will make $75 million available to provide another round of help to businesses that have already received Business Stabilization Grants. In order to qualify for this funding, businesses will have to agree to comply with state and local health orders.
Another $25 million will go toward supplemental payments for Montanans who lost work because of COVID. In addition to their regular benefits, eligible Montanans will receive $200 a week for four weeks.
All of the $1.25 billion in federal assistance that Montana received through the CARES Act must be used by the end of 2020.
Still, Bullock said this relief would not be enough, and he urged the federal government to approve more aid.
“We know the needs of Montana businesses and families, the needs that they have, are greater than what we can give them with the remaining state coronavirus relief funds – and the needs will be even greater next year,” he said.
Bullock said the reports of promising results on two potential COVID-19 vaccines are good news. However, with mass distribution of any vaccine still a long way away, he said Montanans will have to take steps to get through a difficult period.
“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” said Bullock. “However, that tunnel is long, and Montana and most other states are squarely in the middle of it.”
Bullock also announced Tuesday that the state is working to bring in at least 100 additional health care workers to assist hospitals and other facilities around the state. They will particularly aid health care providers that have staff shortages because employees have tested positive for COVID or are in isolation or quarantine.
You can read the full state directive on capacity, gathering sizes and mask use here (https://covid19.mt.gov/Portals/223/Documents/2020-11-17_Directive%20on%20Group%20Size%20and%20Capacity%20-%20FINAL.pdf?ver=2020-11-17-150044-130).