Montana Public Radio

Montana Coronavirus Closures & Restrictions

Nov 19, 2020

Updated 11/19/20

Montana has seen massive increases in confirmed COVID-19 cases, and state and local directives have been issued to address developing situation.

Here's a guide to what's open, closed or restricted in Montana as of November 17, 2020.

Gatherings: Public gatherings, unless exempted, are limited to 25 people when social distancing cannot occur. Gatherings of any size should continue practicing physical distancing. Vulnerable individuals are still encouraged to follow stay-at-home guidance.

According to a Nov. 17 directive from the governor, "Montanans are urged in the strongest terms to limit their involvement in any in-person gatherings of 15 or more people—including private gatherings inside a home. Such gatherings are a significant contributor to the spread of the virus. Montanans are urged to practice social distancing in any gathering of any size outside their own household."

Masks: Under a directive in effect beginning Nov. 20, face coverings are required in all indoor spaces open to the public.

A face covering is defined as "a fabric, paper, or disposable face covering that covers the nose and mouth and which does not have an exhalation valve." The term includes face shields. It also contains a list of exceptions that applies to both rules.

COVID-19 guidelines during phase 2 of Montana's reopening.
Credit Montana Disaster and Emergency Services

Businesses can remain open but must adhere to physical distancing. That applies to places of assembly such as live music venues and bowling alleys, which are now reopened with reduced capacities. These places are to avoid gatherings of more than 50 people.

Under a Nov. 17 directive, restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries and casinos must operate at 50 percent capacity and close no later than 10 p.m.

Employers should continue encouraging tele-work. If it’s not feasible, they should follow Phase 1 guidance. That includes accommodating alternate work schedules, closing common areas and minimizing non-essential business travel. Special accommodations should be made for members of a vulnerable population, or for those living with such individuals.

Tourists are allowed in the state: The travel quarantine for non-work-related arrivals expired June 1. However, the Montana National Guard is still authorized to assess travelers in airports and train depots.

The state’s tourism communities are undergoing a robust public health plan, including the Community Snapshot Testing Initiative establishing testing sites in tourism hot spots.

Bullock issued a directive allowing visitors at nursing homes and assisted living facilities, but a series of COVID-19 outbreaks at care facilities prompted a second rule. The July 13th directive required facilities to not only conduct baseline testing before once again accepting visitors, but also required a surveillance testing plan of staff moving forward.

COVID-19 guidelines for tourists during phase 2 of Montana's reopening.
Credit Montana Disaster and Emergency Services

• Child care facilities can increase capacity if physical distancing guidelines can be implemented.

It's important to note that localities and tribal governments may more stringent restrictions in place. Montanans and travelers alike should be aware of and respect the travel restrictions instituted by each unique tribal governments.

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: Yellowstone County’s health mandate limits crowd sizes to 25 people, regardless of ability to social distance, and requires restaurants and bars to close by 12:30 a.m. The county is also expanding on the governor's order to require that churches and gyms operate at 50 percent capacity and close at 10 p.m. The county is restricting private sports and performance organizations to only practicing with up to 25 people, and forbids games or performances. The order does not impact school sports programs. These mandates are in place through the end of the year.

National Forest lands remain open, but some services are still 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. When campgrounds and developed recreation sites reopen varied between forests, and several still have one or two sites still closed. Follow the links below for more information on specific national forests:

Masks can help slow the spread of COVID-19 from people who don't yet know they have it, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Credit Montana Disaster and Emergency Services

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.

State Parks

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 its latest COVID-19 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.

Montana’s COVID-19 website is a regularly updated source for the Montana COVID-19 updates. Find more details on the state's phased reopening plan here.

You can also find daily COVID-19 updates from MTPR.