During a Tuesday afternoon press conference Nov. 17, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock announced three new directives aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 within the state as winter approaches.
COVID-19 cases began to increase markedly throughout Montana in September, with even rural areas seeing an increase in confirmed cases.
"We're all sick of this virus," Bullock said. "We all have to collectively recognize that this virus won't stop spreading in our communities any time soon unless we take collective action soon."
Bullock's new directives went into effect Friday, Nov. 20 at 8 a.m. and mandate that bars restaurants, casinos, distilleries and breweries operate at 50 percent capacity. The businesses must close by 10 p.m. but can reopen at 4 a.m. Breweries and distilleries are required to abide by existing closing time, which are earlier than 10 p.m. under existing law. The directive further stipulates that establishments must observe a six-person-per-table limit and provide six-feet of social distancing between groups or tables.
A second directive limits public gatherings, other than in places of worship, to 25 or fewer people where social distancing isn't possible. Places of worship remain subject to the 50-person limit under Phase 2 of Bullock's re-opening plan.
In a third directive Bullock also expanded the mask mandate to include all counties, scrapping the previous exemption for cases with fewer than four cases.
Noting the strain the number of cases is placing on hospitals, including those in rural areas, Bullock said he believes it's incumbent on everyone across the state to take these steps.
"Not only are we are entering the colder season, but it's also cold and flu season," he said.
In response to a question about possible quarantines for visitors to the state, Bullock said he's looking at the fact that spread occurring in the state isn't coming from out of state but is coming from within communities.
"In addition to measures we already have in place, and we need people to follow - the masking and social distancing - these are things that if taken seriously and if followed, I do think it can make a difference."
Bullock will be providing another round of Business Stabilization Grants, totaling $75 million, to businesses that have already been vetted and received earlier funding and that can demonstrate a loss of revenue and that they are following public health guidelines.
Bullock is also using what remains of the $1.25 billion the state received from the from the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act to provide $25 million to the Montana Department of Labor & Industry for unemployment benefits for eligible Montanans. The money will provide supplemental payments of $200 per week for four weeks. Eligible individuals who file regular payment requests in montanaworks.gov or mtpua.mt.gov will receive the support without applying separately.
COVID-19 cases across the state spiked dramatically within the last three weeks, with reaching a one-day peak of 1,513 cases Nov. 13. By Nov. 25, there were 58,565 cases statewide, with 15,901 active cases. Lewis and Clark county reported 1,087 active cases Wednesday out of a total of 2,564 cases this year. The state reported a total of 652 deaths related to COVID-19 on Nov. 25 while Lewis and Clark County had seen 11 of those.*
*Numbers changes from print issue to reflect updated information Nov. 25.