Montana Gov. Steve Bullock issues tougher COVID-19 restrictions to slow spread of virus
HELENA – Gov. Steve Bullock has announced a new round of directives which will limit crowd size and close bars, restaurants and casinos at 10 p.m., in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The new directives go into effect 5 a.m. Friday and come as there has been talk of new vaccines soon to be available. There was no expiration date set for the directive.
“The situation is serious in Montana, and it is serious across the nation,” Bullock said Tuesday at a news conference. “We need to turn things around over the next few months while we wait on a widely distributed vaccine or else we risk hospitals that turn patients away and risk any further ability to control the spread.”
He said with news of a vaccine there is "light at the end of the the tunnel.”
“However that tunnel is long,” Bullock said, adding Montana and other states are “squarely in the middle of it.”
Bullock said positive cases in Montana and the country continue to soar at levels not seen before. Montana has added nearly 16,000 cases since Nov. 1.
Bullock’s announcement occurred the same day Montana reported 1,500 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the state’s total to 49,398. The state has had 543 deaths related to the respiratory illness.
He said health care workers are exhausted and said hospital resources are stretched. He said some places are out of beds and room for new beds. He said 70 employees had tested positive for COVID-19 at Kalispell Regional Medical Center.
"Our health care systems eventually will not be able to sustain this rate, particularly as resources become limited nationwide," he said.
Bullock said the state is working on contracting for medical staff services to help facilities that are overwhelmed and hoping to get 100 or more medical staff from around the country in the next week to help in Montana.
He warned the state could not sustain the current rate of COVID-19 cases.
"We need Montanans to stay at home as much as possible, limit their outings in public, wear a face covering when out in public and limit gatherings, particularly as we enter into the upcoming holiday season," he said,
He then announced his new directives. His mask mandate, which calls for masks and face coverings in counties with four or more active cases, as of Tuesday applied to all of the state's 56 counties except Treasure and Meagher counties. It is now in effect statewide.
The governor also offered new financial aid to residents.
The governor said the state will provide $75 million in Business Stabilization Grants to businesses impacted by the directives and have received prior Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) funding.
He also said the state will provide $25 million to the Montana Department of Labor & Industry to provide eligible Montanans who are unemployed or partially unemployed due to COVID-19 disruptions with a supplemental payment of $200 a week for four weeks beginning Nov. 28 and ending Dec. 19.
Coronavirus updates: Montana adds 1,500 new COVID-19 cases, Cascade County has 540, state says
The directive requires restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries and casinos to operate at 50% of normal capacity. Tables must be limited to six people, with 6 feet of physical distance between groups.
The directive will limit public gatherings and events to 25 people where it is not possible to practice social distancing or where social distancing is not being practiced, Bullock said.
He said this does not alter the existing requirements for K-12 schools or apply to houses of worship.
The governor's previous mask mandate sparked some protest, prompting some people to march on the governor's mansion. Bullock said since that time more Montana families have been personally impacted by the virus.
He said he hoped that every Montanan, even those who are resistant, would think of what they can do to be good members of the community and about how to keep the greater community safe.
Bullock is in the final weeks of his time as governor and could not seek another four years due to term limits. Republican Greg Gianforte will be sworn in as governor on Jan. 4.
Reporter Phil Drake is our eye on the state capitol. For tips, suggestions or comment, he can be reached at 406-231-9021 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To support his work, subscribe today and get a special offer.