Gov. Greg Gianforte has issued a new COVID-19 directive which takes effect January 15. The new directive changes the state's guidelines, and replaces the directive established by former Gov. Steve Bullock. Local health boards still maintain the authority to enforce stricter mandates within each county.
"The whole concept here is we're going to move more to personal responsibility and away from specific mandates," Gianforte said. "Because we trust Montanans with their health and the health of their loved ones."
Masks: Gianforte’s new measures include a statewide mask mandate.
“A face covering that covers the mouth and nose shall be worn at all times in indoor spaces open to the public. Face coverings shall be provided for all employees and volunteers. All points of entry open to the public shall have a clearly visible sign posted stating: ‘Mask or face covering use required for ages five and older.’”
Masks are not required outside unless attending “any organized outdoor activity where social distancing is not possible or is not observed.”
There are several mask exemptions, including for children under 5, for people eating or drinking in restaurants, for those "giving a speech or engaging in an artistic, cultural, musical, or theatrical performance for an audience, provided the audience is separated by at least six feet of distance," or for those with "a medical condition precluding the safe wearing of a face covering."
Gov. Gianforte has pledged to lift Montana's statewide mask mandate. He said the repeal would come only after the vaccine is available to people over 70 years old and to Montanans with underlying health conditions. He also said there will first need to be liability protections in place for businesses, churches, nonprofits and schools issuing safety measures of their own.
Gatherings: “Any public gatherings or events should be managed in a way that accommodates CDC social distancing guidelines.” This removes all previous capacity limits.
Businesses: Businesses no longer have restrictions on their capacities or hours. Per the new guidelines, they “… should make reasonable efforts to develop and implement appropriate policies based on industry best practices during this emergency.” If there are no industry best practices, Gianforte’s directive points owners and managers towards “… federal, state, and local regulations and guidance …”
Schools: “Schools should make reasonable efforts to follow industry standards best practices recommended by the Center for Disease Control, the Office of Public Instruction.”
It's important to note that localities and tribal governments may more stringent restrictions in place. Here's a list of some additional restrictions by locality:
Blackfeet Reservation: The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council on November 5 extended its COVID-19 stay-at-home order until November 22.
That means all residents on the Blackfeet Reservation are required to “Stay at Home unless engaged in essential activities as follows:—obtain medical services;—obtain food or medicine;—to engage in spiritual, mental, physical and emotional well-being. Only residents of the Blackfeet Reservation are permitted to engage in outdoor activities with members from within the same household or established cohorts as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)."
The Blackfeet Covid-19 Incident Command Facebook page provides the latest update and resources.
Cascade County: The number of people at gatherings and events is capped at 50. Schools, childcare facilities and places of worship are exempt if they can maintain six feet of distance between people. Places of worship are still limited to 75% capacity.
Bars, restaurants, casinos, gyms, movie theaters, and coffee houses are required to limit capacity to 50 percent. These restrictions will remain in place until Cascade County have achieved a rate of 25 infected persons per 100,000 population and have maintained that rate for four weeks.
Crow Reservation: Residents are required "to stay near their place of residence as much as possible and maintain social distance." Gatherings of more than 50 people are banned if social distancing cannot be maintained. Facemasks are required and a reservation-wide curfew is in place from 9 p.m. until 6 a.m. daily.
The tribe's Facebook page posts the latest COVID-19 government updates.
Fort Belknap Reservation: On July 13, the Fort Belknap Indian Community Council passed a resolution mandating masks.
Fort Peck Reservation: The Fort Peck and Assiniboine Tribes on September 29 returned to phase 1. That puts non-essential employees, residents and businesses under stay-at-home orders on the Fort Peck reservation and limits gatherings to 10 people or fewer.
The Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Covid-19 Information & Updates Facebook page seems to be the best place for updates on the reservation's COVID-19 ordinances.
Gallatin County: The Gallatin City-County Board of Health imposed new restrictions November 6 on certain businesses. They include: a 10 p.m. close time for bars, tasting rooms, distilleries, casinos and restaurants. Higher-risk businesses – such as gyms/fitness centers, places of assembly, bars, restaurants, distilleries and casinos are now required to limit the number of patrons to 50% of capacity.
Most physical group gatherings in Gallatin County are now limited to no more than 25 individuals, regardless of the ability to physically distance. This restriction applies to both indoor and outdoor events. The rule revisions include exceptions for certain businesses and organizations where social distancing is most feasible, including houses of worship and certain places of assembly.
Lewis & Clark County: On July 7, the county ordered limits on group sizes and events. Gatherings were restricted to 250 people or fewer, with strict guidelines for smaller groups. The directive is set to expire Dec. 31.
Missoula County: Missoula City-County Health officials imposed new restrictions in late October. Those include capping group sizes at no more than 25 people, restricting local businesses to 50 percent capacity and ending alcohol service at 10 pm. Residents are also asked to stay home as much as possible.
The Missoula City-County health board is also requiring event organizers of gatherings up to 250 people to submit plans 10 days ahead of time. The county says it will accept plans for sporting events with more than 25 people if they comply with NCAA and Big Sky Conference requirements.
Missoula County health officials also suggested that local health orders will stay in place if Governor-elect Greg Gianforte removes Gov. Bullock's current directives.
Northern Cheyenne Reservation: On October 5 President Rynalea Whiteman Pena of the Northern Cheyenne tribe issued an executive order extending the full lockdown of the reservation. Residents are advised to avoid nonessential daytime travel during the week. Nonessential travel remains completely prohibited under the order during a weeknight curfew, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., and during the weekend at all hours.
Tribal leadership said the current Stay-At-Home order will remain in place until there are 50 or fewer confirmed active coronavirus cases on the reservation for a full 30 days. The curfew and weekend lockdowns may also be extended until this goal is achieved. The order said the curfew will remain in place until public health officials recommend ending it.
Bureau of Indian Affairs police are enforcing the curfew and lockdown. BIA road checkpoints have been in place on the reservation since August 7.
The Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council Community Broadcasting Network on Facebook page seems to be a good source for updates.
Rocky Boy's Reservation: The Chippewa Cree Tribe has ordered a lockdown on the Rocky Boy's Reservation through Oct. 25. With the exception of essential services, the order prohibits all travel outside of homes.
The Chippewa Cree Tribe of Rocky Boy Montana Facebook page provides community and reservation updates.
Silver Bow County: The Butte-Silver Bow Health Department Nov. 11 tightened COVID-19 restrictions on local businesses and gatherings. Businesses are now limited at 50% capacity. Events and gatherings of over 25 people must be reviewed in advance by the health department. Alcohol service at bars and restaurants now must stop at 10 p.m.
Yellowstone County: As of January 7, 2021, Yellowstone County has rescinded all local COVID-19 guidelines.
National Forest lands remain open, but some services may be limited.
“At this time, the Forest Service continues to remain open and operational, and we are committed to the continuity of our mission. Our primary delivery of public service will occur through virtual means (ie. telephone and online service).”
The agency also has a COVID-19 FAQ.
National parks in Montana are following individualized plans, and visitors should come prepared to follow all CDC and local health guidance.
People are asked to follow good hygiene and to social distance. Face coverings are recommended where social distancing is not possible. People who are sick should stay home and not visit the park.
The CDC has provided specific guidance on visiting parks and recreational facilities.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks offices and visitor centers opened June 3 in accordance with Phase 2 of Montana's phased reopening. As explained in a Facebook post:
"FWP offices have been closed since late March due to Montana’s COVID-19 pandemic response. As the public returns, strict adherence to Phase 2 guidelines will be critical: stay at home if you feel sick, make sure to frequently wash and sanitize your hands, and maintain at least six feet of distance from other people.
FWP front offices around the state will be set up to help facilitate these simple guidelines, including marking floors to help keep people spaced out, providing hand sanitizer for customers, and glass dividers between front counter staff and customers.
Please note that many FWP employees are still working remotely, so for business beyond front desk license purchases and other related information, please plan to reach out to the appropriate staff member directly by phone or email or ask front desk staff for contact information."
FWP posts continues to post updates on its "COVID-19 Response and Update" page.