Restaurants, bars begin to cautiously open

Schools decide on distance learning for rest of year
By 
Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, May 6, 2020
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Within hours of the “reopening” of Montana’s bars and restaurants on Monday, law enforcement and an ambulance responded to a call at a downtown Dillon tavern. J.P. Plutt photo

The phased reopening of Montana took another step Monday, with restaurants, bars, casinos and distilleries allowed to open under strict physical distancing and capacity guidelines.

The statewide closures were prompted by the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Steve Bullock mapped out a reopening plan to try to protect public health but also slowly restart the economy.

Montana’s COVID-19 case counts continue to grow, though slowly. The state gained six cases over the past week, with one death in the same time frame, according to statewide case data. Slow growth in case counts has occurred in Yellowstone and Cascade counties.

As of Tuesday, Montana had 456 total cases and 16 deaths from the virus. Nationally, there have been more than 1.1 million COVID-positive cases and more than 67,400 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Beaverhead and Madison counties have no new cases or deaths from the virus as of Tuesday.

Restaurant and bar guidelines outlined

Beaverhead County’s public health board instituted phase one reopening guidelines starting Monday for restaurants, bars, casinos, breweries and distilleries. The guidelines mirror those laid out in Bullock’s phased reopening plan, with a couple of exceptions – that local food and drink businesses submit plans for cleaning and physical distancing to the local health board by May 11 and wait staff are encouraged to wear masks and gloves (see related story).

Overall, businesses of all types are encouraged to keep six feet of distance between patrons, conduct frequent disinfection and cleaning for often-touched or -used surfaces, have employees wear masks and monitor temperatures before shifts, and operate through appointments or carryout services.

Many restaurants and bars continue to have questions about how many people can be inside an establishment, Beaverhead County Sheriff Paul Craft said Monday, and public health officials are working to clear those questions up. In general, establishments should have less than 50 customers total, and they should be operating at half their normal capacity; groups of people should be limited to fewer than 10 people, and no more than six people in one party at a table. Sitting or standing at bars is not allowed; customers must be served at tables.

Schools stay virtual for now

Beaverhead County High School and School District #10’s school boards decided to continue online learning instruction through the rest of the current school year (see related stories pages 2 and 3).

Barrett Hospital phases in some services, electives

Barrett Hospital and Healthcare is slowly allowing for more elective procedures and other services; such as imaging services, lab testing, and physical, occupational and speech therapies. The hospital has a mandatory mask-wearing policy for patients and staff in its facilities, though masks can be bandanas, scarves or other face covering. The hospital ceased these functions in line with statewide restrictions, to ensure critical care resources could be provided during the pandemic.

The facility also put in place employee health screenings when coming to work, patient screening for fever and respiratory symptoms at its entrances, and stressed appointments for elective or non-emergency services. For more information, visit https://www.barretthospital.org .

County courthouse remains limited access

The Beaverhead County courthouse doors continue to be locked, with services available largely by appointment only. Different departments are determining how best to safely reopen doors and abide by disinfection and cleaning protocols outlined in the phased reopening plans. Department heads are to present their plans and ideas at a May 11 county commission meeting. No date has yet been established to have the doors reopened completely.

Fifth Judicial District Court will continue to operate by appointment only, with hearings being held by video conference software or telephone. District Court Judge Luke Berger issued an administrative order noting those restrictions are in effect through May 30. The order notes the court may begin holding in-court appearances in June, but they will not be required and electronic appearances may continue as a result of the ongoing pandemic.

For the latest Montana COVID-19 data, visit https://covid19.mt.gov .