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Bars open, gyms closed: How Montana looks in Phase 1
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Bars open, gyms closed: How Montana looks in Phase 1

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Cleaning the gym

One-year-old Coen Marshall finds a spot in need of cleaning at his father's gym. The Missoula gym closed to the public in March.

Starting with churches on Sunday, some of the places and businesses in Montana that have been closed since at least mid-March will begin to reopen, though operations will look much different than they did before COVID-19 hit the state.

Montana is entering what Gov. Steve Bullock says is Phase 1 of what will be a three-part process of lifting regulations. Even under the final phase, it's clear Montanans will be living in a "new normal."

Here's a breakdown of what to expect in coming days and months. Local health boards and governments may implement more strict restrictions than the state. And things may change if Montana sees a spike in COVID-19 cases, a lack of sufficient testing capacity or stress on hospitals.

Unless dates are provided, things will generally open in Phase 1 after the stay-at-home order expires April 26 for individuals and April 27 for nonessential businesses.

Schools

On May 7, all public K-12 schools in Montana can return to in-classroom teaching. Some districts in Montana, however, have already called off the rest of their school years. And the Montana High School Sports Association said Wednesday there won't be a spring sports season this year.

The decision to reopen lies with local districts after Bullock lifts his directive. Districts that do open are encouraged to consider a mix of in-person and remote learning. Other options could include things like staggered school days. 

Schools must frequently clean and sanitize. Libraries, gyms and playgrounds will be off-limits unless they can be sanitized between groups. Hand sanitizer must be provided.

Schools need to do temperature checks and screen for symptoms and require anyone, students or staff, to stay home if they are sick. Students and staff should wear face coverings. Students should also stay in the same group as much as possible, and perhaps eat lunch in their classroom to avoid mixing students.

Extracurricular actives should be canceled and anyone who isn't a student or staff member should stay out of school buildings -- that includes parents. Buses should consider limiting students to one per seat.

Graduation ceremonies would need to meet social distancing requirements, including the cap on gatherings at 10 people. Guidance encourages livestreaming the event, limiting attendance, grouping graduates and holding multiple ceremonies and more.

Schools need to take into consideration that some teachers and staff are in the at-risk category and they should be given additional accommodations. And students who are at-risk should not be penalized for not attending school or continuing remote learning.

What's opening in Phase 1:

Restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries and casinos: These places can open on or after May 4, under strict physical distancing guidelines and at 50% capacity to start.

No more than six people can sit at a table and tables must be spaced at least 6 feet apart or have barriers between them.

Breweries and distilleries have always had to close at 8 p.m., and now bars, restaurants and casinos must close by 11:30 p.m. People also can't sit at bars or stand at counters. That means drinks must be served to customers at the table.

Tables, menus and other shared items need to be cleaned between customers.

Self-service buffets, drink refills, and stations with straws, lids and condiments are not allowed.

Any place that can't follow the guidelines must keep doing takeout or delivery orders.

Casinos must keep gaming machines distanced or shut down machines to allow for distancing.

In Phase 2, capacity can increase to 75% of normal and there can be 10 people at a table.

By Phase 3, establishments can go back to normal occupancy but must follow distancing guidelines when possible.

Retail businesses: These can open on April 27. Capacity inside locations must be reduced and physical distancing must be maintained. By Phase 2, they can operate with adherence to distancing. And in the third phase, they must operate consistent to CDC guidelines.

Campgrounds, fishing access, outdoor recreation: Public lands, fishing access sites and parks are encouraged to continue letting local and regional residents have fun outside, as long as they follow strict distancing rules.

Anywhere that cannot allow for distancing or sufficient sanitation should be closed and stay closed.

Some limited campground use, as well as group-use facilities and playgrounds, may be reopened at the discretion of local and state managers. Those decision-makers are strongly encouraged to coordinate on reopening.

Guides and outfitters can operate in Phase 1, but people who use those services must follow the 14-day quarantine for people visiting the state.

Nothing changes in Phase 2. By Phase 3, interstate tourism travel resumes. Campgrounds, group-use facilities, playgrounds and visitor centers open.

Places of worship: Churches can reopen with reduced capacity April 26. Gatherings of more than 10 should be avoided if distancing cannot be maintained. In Phase 2, capacity goes up to 50. There is no limit on group size in Phase 3.

Child care facilities: These have been and will stay open, following existing guidelines about distancing and occupancy. Under Phase 2, capacity can increase if physical distancing guidelines can be followed. By Phase 3, they can operate fully with awareness of distancing at the forefront of functions.

Organized youth activities: These can consider operating if physical distancing is followed. Gatherings of more than 10, however, in places where distancing can't be maintained should be avoided. Under Phase 2, the cap on gathering rises to 50. And there are no limits on gathering sizes in the final phase.

Salons, massage providers, body art studios: These operations require close personal contact for an extended period of time, which puts staff and customers at higher risk. That being said, they can reopen in Phase 1 with additional precautions.

Customers must be screened for symptoms. Anyone who has a fever, cough or shortness of breath must reschedule their appointment. 

Staff and customers must wear masks when possible. Stations for providers must be 6 feet apart. That could mean reduced capacity, removing some stations, providing a physical barrier, closing waiting areas or anything that reduces the amount of time staff and customers are in contact.

In Phase 2, establishments must provide for distancing between stations. In Phase 3, normal occupancy is allowed while following previous guidelines. Distancing should be continued when practical.

Medical care: Bullock's orders did not limit hospitals or providers from performing elective procedures; that was a choice facilities made on their own and with guidance from the Montana Hospital Association. Local facilities can decide when to change their current approach.

Elections: All counties in the state have decided to hold the June 2 primary by mail, though in-person voting will still be available at elections offices or satellite voting on some reservations. It's not clear yet how the November election might look. About 71% of Montanans already vote by mail through an absentee ballot.

What's not changing in Phase 1

Senior living or assisted living centers: Visitors are still prohibited. Staff will be screened daily to prevent ill employees from working. This looks the same under Phase 2. In Phase 3, visits can resume with diligent regard to hygiene.

Gyms, pools, hot springs: These are not open until Phase 2. At that point, they can operate with reduced capacity, if social distancing is followed and there are frequent sanitation protocols in place. By Phase 3, these places can open fully with frequent sanitation. 

Movie theaters, performance theaters, concert halls, bowling alleys, bingo halls and music halls: These are all still closed until Phase 2, and must limit crowd capacity to 50 when opening and follow distancing. Under Phase 3 there are no restrictions on crowd sizes. 

Guidelines

Masks and hygiene: Wearing a non-medical face covering such as a cloth mask is strongly encouraged when out in public and in places where it's difficult to maintain distancing, such as stores or on a bus.

In all phases, people should practice good hygiene. Wash your hands! Wash your hands! Wash your hands! Also don't touch your face, don't sneeze on surfaces or others, and disinfect frequently used items.

If you're sick, stay home. Period. Call a doctor for advice on if you should get tested.

What Phase 1 looks like

Vulnerable people: Anyone who is over the age of 65 or has underlying health conditions should continue to stay home. Health conditions include high blood pressure, chronic lung disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma and those whose immune system is compromised such as by chemotherapy for cancer and other conditions requiring such therapy.

This is the same in Phase 2. In Phase 3, this group can resume public interactions but should practice distancing and precautionary measures.

When in public: Everyone who doesn't live in the same household should maximize their physical distance from others.

Gatherings: Groups of more than 10 in circumstances that do not allow for appropriate physical distancing should be avoided. 

Travel: Nonessential trips should be limited. The 14-day quarantine for those traveling into the state for non-work purposes is still in place.

Work: Employers should still encourage telework whenever possible. They should also allow for alternative work schedules such as shifts or staggering to make it easier to follow distancing guidelines.

All common areas should be closed, so don't bring cookies to share in the break room on the first day back. Employers are also directed to make accommodations to those who are vulnerable or have vulnerable people in their households. Nonessential work travel should be minimized.

What Phase 2 looks like

Vulnerable people: Same as Phase 1 — anyone who is over the age of 65 or has underlying health conditions should continue to stay home. Health conditions include high blood pressure, chronic lung disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma and those whose immune system is compromised such as by chemotherapy for cancer and other conditions requiring such therapy.

Gatherings: Groups of more than 50 in circumstances that do not allow for appropriate physical distancing should be avoided.

Travel: Also the same as Phase 1 — nonessential trips should be limited. The 14-day quarantine for those traveling into the state for non-work purposes is still in place.

Work: Also similar to Phase 1, employers should still encourage telework whenever possible. They should also allow for alternative work schedules.

What Phase 3 looks like

Vulnerable people: Vulnerable populations can resume public interactions, but practice distancing and other precautionary measures.

Gatherings: No limits.

Work: Employers can resume full staffing.

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