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Reaction: some COVID restrictions are being loosened in Cascade County

Cowboys Bar manager Dianna Olson
Board of Health meeting
Cowboys Bar in Great Falls
Posted at 4:02 PM, Jan 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-20 18:02:59-05

GREAT FALLS — Cowboys Bar manager Dianna Olson didn't hesitate when asked how the loosened COVID-19 restrictions in Cascade County will impact the bar: “Immensely.”

Bars and restaurants will now be able to stay open until 12:30 a.m., but will have to close until 4 a.m. Since November, the county has required them to close at 10 p.m. They'll now also only be limited to 75 percent capacity instead of 50 percent.

"It was just tough on the girls more than the bar because they weren't making money to pay their bills,” Olson said. "I'm thinking this is fine right here. I'm content with this.”

The issue of capacity limits for events drew the most discussion during Wednesday's Board of Health meeting. The limit was set at 250 people for indoor events and 500 for outdoor events.

After public comments, however, board members considered allowing event venues to apply for an exception to exceed the limits or capping event attendance at 75 percent, but a motion to change the bar and restaurant capacity restriction to include events failed.

"I think it's progress and I really think that's what everyone's looking for,” said Kerri Koteskey, Foothills Community Christian School Advancement Coordinator.

Koteskey spoke at the meeting, asking the board to consider the 75 percent cap for events. She said it would help with the school's annual spring fundraiser, a huge part of the school's funding.

"We'll get back in the trenches and we'll work with (the local health director) and see what we can do. For us, we'd really just like to have the opportunity to move forward with our planning,” Koteskey said.

Board members opposed to changing the capacity limit noted the change can easily be made at a future meeting.

The City-County Health Department in Great Falls provided the following details about the relaxed restrictions:

Last week, Governor Greg Gianforte announced that he was rescinding former Governor Bullock’s Executive Orders 2-2020 and 3-2020. Governor Gianforte also issued a new Directive implementing his Executive Order 2-2021, which lifts some restrictions but leaves the mask order in place. The directive states that “in the interest of uniformity of laws and to prevent the spread of disease, all inconsistent local government health ordinances or orders are preempted by this Directive, but only to the extent they are less restrictive.” That is, Governor Gianforte’s directive does not supersede local health orders. A local Health Officer Order will be issued later today and will be uploaded to the Cascade County COVID-19 webpage (check the documents section).

Four decisions were made at today’s special Board of Health meeting:
1. Occupancy*
a. Businesses may now increase their operations to 75% of their capacity

2. Operating hours*
a. Businesses identified in the previous health order** may now close between the hours of 12:30 AM and 4:00 AM

3. Maximum assembly at events
a. Gatherings of up to 50 people are now allowed
b. Gatherings of 50-250 people are allowed indoors with the approval of an Event Plan Packet (will be posted on the CCHD site before 5:00 AM on Friday 1/22/21)
c. Gatherings of 50-500 people are allowed outdoors with the approval of an Event Plan Packet (will be posted on the CCHD site)

4. Date of implementation & duration of Order
a. The above control measures are effective Friday January 22, 2021 at 5:00 AM and will remain in place until the per capita spread of the virus is 25 per 100,000 for four consecutive weeks

*Exceptions to occupancy & operating hours, which are not limited to 75% capacity or to new operating hours:

  • Schools: local school districts and school boards for all school-related activities, both academic and extracurricular School Events, both academic and extracurricular
  • Childcare facilities, in recognition of their critical role in supporting a necessary workforce
  • Food service establishments that serve a population that depends on it as its sole source of food: university dining facilities, cafeterias in K-12 schools, hospital and care facilities, room service in hotels, crisis shelters or similar institutions, airport concessionaires, and any facilities necessary for the response to the emergency, all of which may continue to operate using necessary-only personnel

*Businesses identified in previous health order:

  • Restaurants, food courts, cafes, coffee houses, bars, brew pubs, taverns, breweries, microbreweries, distilleries, wineries, tasting rooms, special licensees, clubs, casinos, gyms, movie theaters

These restrictions will be continually assessed as we move forward.