The Blaine County Journal News-Opinion - We've Got The County Covered

Re-Opening the Big Sky


April 29, 2020

Under Governor Steve Bullock's Phased Reopening of Montana, retail businesses were allowed to reopen their doors on Monday, April 27, and become operational with reduced capacity. Some Blaine County business owners were eager to get back to work while others expressed hesitation, preferring instead to continue to telework.

Bonnie Weber, owner of Shores Floral & Gift in Chinook, shared her feelings about the Governor's Directive: "My feelings are a little mixed on opening the doors, truthfully. I'm hoping that people will respect the social distancing guidelines. We plan to post reminders to that effect. Fortunately, our store isn't one that people usually crowd into all at once."

Co-owner of Harlem Lumber, Rod Wagner was ready for business when he opened his doors to the public on Monday. Laughing, he said, "I'm 100% behind the governor's 50%," referring to the governor's guideline about reduced capacity. "I'm most eager for the restaurants to be open again," Wagner added.

Other businesses are not planning to open their doors quite yet. State Farm Insurance Agent, Crystal Stepper reported that State Farm would continue to work remotely. "The directive asks that we continue to work remotely if we can, so we are following that aspect of the directive."

On April 24, Stepper posted this message to her clients on her State Farm Facebook page: "Although we look forward to business as usual, we have made the decision to follow the governor's guidelines and continue to work remotely in order to protect our staff, their families, and our community. We will continue to communicate with you as the situation changes. We thank you all for your patience and understanding and look forward to seeing you all again soon!"

In making her decision, Stepper prioritized her family's health: "My mom is my daycare provider, and she is high risk. I also have an autoimmune disease so we are being very cautious. Luckily we can work effectively from home."

Businesses that reopen must adhere to the following reopening guidelines for Phase One:

• Enforce strict social distancing protocols or close common areas where personnel are likely to congregate and interact;

• Minimize non-essential business travel;

• Make special accommodations for members of a vulnerable population or those with vulnerable household members; and

• Conduct health assessments of all employees at the beginning of each shift.

In establishments where customers wait in a line, non-household customers should remain physically distanced. Any waiting areas where adequate physical distancing cannot be maintained must be closed. Customers should also be encouraged to call for a reservation or an appointment. Because physical distancing of six feet must be maintained between customers, this may require

• A reduction in capacity;

• A reduction of seating in service and waiting areas;

• Management of waiting areas and lines; or

• Systems that reduce the amount of contact time between customers and staff.

Effective Monday, May 4, restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries, and casinos can become operational under strict physical distancing and reduced capacity protocols in accordance with State guidelines.

Continued on page A3: Reopen the Big Sky

These businesses will be required to close their doors and have all patrons out by 11:30 p.m. Breweries and distilleries are obligated to follow existing laws on closing time.

Under Phase One, reduced capacity means limiting capacity to 50% of normal operating capacity to allow for adequate group spacing. Tables must be limited to six people per table, and establishments must provide for six feet of physical distancing between groups and or tables by increasing table spacing, removing tables, marking tables as closed, or providing for a physical barrier between tables.

Other Phase One guidelines for these businesses include

• Closing self-service buffets,

• Not allowing drink refills,

• Cleaning every table between customers,

• Storing self-service cups, straws, and lids behind a counter to be distributed individually to customers, and

• Eliminating self-service condiments.

Any gaming machines that are operational must be separated by a seven-foot, center to center measurement. If adequate spacing cannot be assured, machines must be placed out of service.

In bars or breweries, sitting or standing at bars or counters is not allowed, and any drinks and food must be served to customers at a table.

During Phase Two, restaurants may increase capacity to 75% of normal operating capacity and tables must be limited to ten people per table. As they increase capacity, however, establishments must continue to provide for physical distancing between groups and/or tables.

In Phase Three, establishments should begin to resume normal occupancy while continuing to follow social distancing guidelines when practical.

Unless modified by a subsequent Directive, gyms, pools, and hot tubs must remain closed until Phase Two. Other places of assembly that must remain closed during Phase One include movie and performance theaters, concert halls, bowling alleys, bingo halls, and music halls.

The duration of each phase will be regularly evaluated in close consultation with public health and emergency management professionals. Factors considered in moving from one phase to the next include the ability for public health professionals to monitor new cases adequately and to conduct contact tracing. Hospitals must maintain the ability to treat all patients safely, both COVID-19 patients and those with other health conditions, and Montana must maintain its ability to screen and test all people with COVID-19 symptoms and maintain sufficient levels of personal protective equipment.

"Montana's efforts response to slow the spread of new infections have been effective. To date, our health care system has not been overwhelmed, and we continue to work to increase our testing capacity. Through the collective efforts of all Montanans to reduce the transmission of COVID-19, Montana now has one of the lowest per capita rates of infection in the United States," Bullock stated.

In response to the Phased Reopening of Montana, Chinook Mayor Keith Hanson commented: "The Governor's Directive gives guidelines, and say what you want, but it's for our own health that we abide by it. Now it's time to get back to work!"


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