Citing authority under state law, the Missoula City County Health Department on Thursday issued new guidelines for large group functions but didn’t move to delay Gov. Steve Bullock’s Phase 2 plans to widen the economic reopening.
Bullock last week signaled his intention to expand the reopening on June 1, allowing gyms, bars and restaurants to increase their occupancy to 75% of normal. The state directive also increases group sizes to 50 without social distancing.
Larger functions are also permitted, though Health Officer Ellen Leahy said that if an event will have between 51 to 250 people in Missoula, the health department is recommending a plan on how organizers will keep attendees socially distanced.
If the event is over 250 people but fewer than 1,000, the county will require a written plan. More than 1,000 will require both a plan and approval from the health department.
“We don’t know where we’re going to be phase wise or where we’re going to be case wise,” said Leahy. “In every case we’ll look at the phase we’re in and any future advise from the governor. We will make epidemiological decisions with our consultants.”
Also on Monday, visitors to the state will no longer be required to self-quarantine for 14 days. Local health officials believe that stage of the plan will bring new cases of COVID-19 to Missoula and other reaches of the state that draw visitors.
“Right now, Montana looks like the place to be,” said Farr. “The virus could get introduced, and if we don’t use the means we have for preventing spread, this could take off.”
Bullock on Thursday also announced new efforts to protect destination communities from viral spread as Phase 2 begins. Resources will cover increased testing and contact tracing, among other things.
It will also include an informational campaign to educate visitors on responsible travel.
“As we enter the next phase of Montana’s reopening, we are asking the same of our visitors as we do from Montanans – heed state and local guidelines, engage in public health precautions, and exercise patience as tourism communities gradually welcome visitors back,” Bullock said.
Twenty counties across the state were deemed to be “destination communities” by the Montana Department of Commerce. They include Missoula, Ravalli, Flathead, Lake, Mineral and Sanders counties in western Montana.
“It goes beyond the gateway counties we’d already heard the governor speak about, and I was glad to see that,” Leahy said. “The conference call this morning really was emphasizing how to add another layer of population-based surveillance testing on people who are asymptomatic.”
Leahy said a statewide plan already exists, though the 20 destinations have been asked to come up with an additional layer that reaches deeper into the community for surveillance purposes.
“Those that are front-line in the tourism industry, they asked us to expand that into some of the tourist areas,” Leahy said. “We’re going to work more with the department of commerce to give us more guidance on that. We’re glad to have more testing available to be able to do that.”