Bullock to widen reopening on June 1; restrictions soften and occupancy grows

Montana National Guard troops will continue to screen arriving passengers at state airports and depots when Phase 2 of the reopening begins on June 1. But capacity at bars and restaurants will increase and a number of other restrictions will expire. (Montana National Guard photo)

With summer closing in, Montana will enter the second phase of its economic reopening on June 1, a move that will funnel additional services to gateway communities and allow restaurants and bars to boost capacity, Gov. Steve Bullock said Tuesday.

In an afternoon press conference, Bullock said the state also remains on track to open its gates to Yellowstone National Park on June 1. That Monday, the mandatory 14-day quarantine of arriving visitors will expire.

Bullock credited the state’s quick response for keeping the number of COVID-19 infections low. Still, he said, the virus will inevitably resurface over the coming months. Just 22 new cases have been confirmed in the state since Phase 1 of the reopening began on April 26.

“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,” the governor said. “We cannot prevent all COVID-19 cases, but there are things we can do to allow Montanans some sense of a normal life while still preventing major outbreaks or overwhelming our state’s healthcare system.”

Under Phase 2 of the governor’s plan, Bullock urged vulnerable individuals to remain at home while visitation to nursing homes will remain suspended, less circumstances involving compassionate care. Employers should also continue to provide telework where possible.

But as those items remain unchanged, Phase 2 will see crowd sizes grow to 50, so long as social distancing can be maintained. Bars, restaurants, casinos and breweries will increase capacity from 50% to 75%.

Gyms, indoor fitness classes and pools can also boost capacity to 75%, so long as distancing is ensured and sanitation takes place. The state will also reopen to tourism, breathing life back into one of the state’s largest economic sectors.

“I continue to target a June 1 opening for the Montana gates of Yellowstone National Park,” Bullock said, saying he’s in touch with park leadership. “We expect we’ll have a recommendation soon, and right now we do remain on track for a June 1 opening.”

Bullock said he’s in conversations with communities around Glacier National Park about its reopening. He expects details soon, though none were offered on Tuesday.

As the state reopens to tourism ahead of the summer months, it will also suspend requirements that visitors or returning residents self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. That restriction was put in place at the height of the pandemic in March.

“In working with our state, public health and emergency response experts, we’ve determined that as Montana enters the summer months, there are more effective and enhanced mitigation strategies we can engage in,” Bullock said.

As the changes go into effect, Bullock said the Montana National Guard will continue to conduct screenings at the state’s airports and depots. It will also increase support to tourism destinations, which will see an increase in visitors come June as Phase 2 goes into effect.

Those in the tourism industry have anticipated strong visitation when the time comes, given Montana’s remote location, its outdoor attractions and generally small population.

“The state will provide support to the state’s destination communities, ensuring they have capacity to respond to the inevitable increase in visitation that comes with being a tourist destination,” he said. “We’ll be making sure Montanans prepare to handle an increase of visitors and keep the virus mitigated as that happens.”