Groups of up to 50 with distancing, end of 14-day quarantine included in Bullock’s phase two plan
Sam Klomhaus — Enterprise Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 20, 2020
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Enterprise photo by Nate Howard

Kat Barker visits Sacajawea Park with her daughters, Josie Barker, 4, and Laina Barker, 18 months. Livingston Park and Recreation Manager Maggie Tarr said park rental facilities will be available for group reservations, such as graduation parties, following Gov. Steve Bullock’s phase two directives.

Beginning June 1, Montana will move to phase two of the state’s reopening plan during the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Steve Bullock said at a press conference Tuesday.

In phase two, gatherings of up to 50 people will be allowed provided they practice social distancing.

The required 14-day quarantine for out of state travelers will be lifted June 1, Bullock said.

The state will coordinate a surveillance testing and early warning system for potential community spread in highly visited and highly vulnerable communities, Bullock said.

Bullock said his team has been reaching out to those communities in advance.

June 1 is also the target for opening the Montana gates of Yellowstone National Park, Bullock said.

Park County Health Officer Dr. Laurel Desnick said Wednesday the communities surrounding the park are developing a plan for increased contact tracing and surveillance testing in areas surrounding and within the park, which will hopefully be fully developed in the next week or two.

“We are gathering supplies and getting protocols in place,” Desnick said. She said they will need to keep a close eye on the areas where there is more interaction with tourists.

Contact tracing works backward after positive tests to find out where people have been and who they may have interacted with, Desnick said, and surveillance testing works to get out ahead of outbreaks. She gave an example of surveillance testing as going to a gas station that sees a lot of tourist traffic and periodically testing the employees to see if they have become carriers.

Desnick said the health department knew phase two was coming at some point, and everyone is looking forward to more things being open, but that we still have to be careful.

“We’re kind of in an interesting position in that we’re thrilled the number of cases has been so low, and we fully expect them to rise,” Desnick said.

The state is developing a statewide campaign for responsible travel, Bullock said. Local public health can’t make things less restrictive than they already are, he said.

“No one wants to find out that they were the ones who spread the virus to others,” Bullock said. “This is preventable by continuing to take COVID-19 and this virus seriously as we create another new normal.”

Bullock said he doesn’t want visitors to bring problems to Montana from their own home states.

“We’re still two weeks from getting to phase two, and we’ll see where that goes,” Bullock said, saying he isn’t sure when the state will move to phase three, in which there are fewer restrictions. He said things won’t return to normal until there’s a vaccine.

Under phase two, come June 1 restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries and casinos will be able operate at 75 percent of capacity, Bullock said, as can gyms, indoor fitness classes, pools and hot tubs. Bowling alleys and other places of assembly can open with reduced capacity.

Visitation at long-term care facilities will continue to be prohibited, Bullock said, and employers should continue to encourage telework.

Montana is in many ways a starkly better position to reopen than most states, Bullock said. Phase one began April 26. Montana has seen 22 new cases since then.

“While the virus remains contained in Montana at this time and new cases are relatively low, we must recognize the virus is still with us, and will be for the foreseeable future,” Bullock said.

Bullock advocated for continuing social distancing, staying at home when sick, washing hands often, limiting close contact, cleaning commonly touched surfaces often and wearing a mask in situations in which social distancing is not possible.

“If not for you, do it for others,” Bullock said, “especially the most vulnerable among us.”

The reopening guidelines are in place to protect people and to allow the state to move forward, Bullock said, and should be followed.

“Not following these guidelines is what’s going to get us in trouble,” the governor said.

Many tribal communities still have stay-at-home orders in place, Bullock said, and Montanans should respect that.

Bullock said the state continues to improve its testing capacity at the state lab. He also said Montana’s contact tracing ability has helped identify a significant number of cases.

The state has constructed two additional medical centers, Bullock said, one in Billings and one in Kalispell, but those haven’t had to have been put into use yet.

Every step beyond stay-at-home orders and closing all businesses presents the risk of increases in cases, Bullock said, so people need to take this seriously.

“We still need Montanans to be in this together,” Bullock said. “Our goal as Montanans is to mitigate the spread of this virus.”