Montana Public Radio

Montana Coronavirus Closures, Restrictions And Exemptions

15 hours ago

Updated 08/12/20

While the state has seen a recent increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases, Gov. Steve Bullock's phased reopening plan is still on schedule. Phase 2 began June 1, and several additional state and local directives have been issued to address developing situation.

Here is a basic guide of what's open, closed or restricted in Montana as of August 12, 2020.

On July 15, Gov. Steve Bullock issued a directive immediately mandating masks in Montana.

Face coverings are required in all "indoor spaces open to the public."

The directive also mandates face coverings "for any organized outdoor activity where social distancing is not possible or is not observed."

Both of these requirements apply only to counties with "four or more confirmed and active COVID-19 cases," and only during the times this remains true. Montana's COVID-19 website has a page dedicated to the mask mandate, and it includes a list of applicable counties that's updated daily.

However, all counties are strongly encouraged to wear masks.

The directive defines a face covering 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.

Bullock's directive emphasizes enforcement centered on education, with formal enforcement measures to be taken "for only the most egregious, repeat violations that put the public at risk." The directive is in effect until the current state of emergency ends.

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

The state is still under Phase 2, which relaxed some restrictions while lifting others. People should avoid gathering in groups of more than 50 when appropriate physical distancing is not possible.

Gatherings of any size should continue practicing physical distancing. Vulnerable individuals are still encouraged to follow stay-at-home guidance.

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 can now reopen with reduced capacities. These places are to avoid gatherings of more than 50 people.

Employers should continue encouraging telework. 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. However, the governor's mask-mandate announcement also warned that labs were being flooded with tests. As of mid-July, Bullock was unsure if the delays would support snapshot testing as previously planned.

Here’s what statewide closures and restrictions are in place under Phase 2:

• On July 15, Bullock issued a directive immediately mandating masks in Montana. Face coverings are required in all "indoor spaces open to the public." The directive also mandates face coverings "for any organized outdoor activity where social distancing is not possible or is not observed."

Both of these requirements apply only to counties with "four or more confirmed and active COVID-19 cases," and only during the times this remains true. However, all counties are strongly encouraged to wear masks.

• 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

• Outdoor recreation, and outdoor recreation sites, also continues under Phase 1 guidance. Sites can become operational if they adhere to strict physical distancing between groups and exercise frequent sanitation protocols if public facilities are open (most have).

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

• Restaurants / bars / breweries / distilleries / casinos, gyms / pools / hot tubs, and movie theaters remain under Phase 1, but will increase in capacity from 50% to 75%. Operationally this means strict physical distancing. Bars, restaurants and casinos must remove all customers by 11:30 p.m.

It's important to note that localities and tribal governments may have additional unique restrictions. 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 Indian Reservation: The governing Blackfeet Tribal Business Council passed its latest resolution on July 31. Gatherings of more that 25 are prohibited, and masks are required on the reservation. The order recommended residents extend their stay-at-home practices until Aug. 14. 

The Blackfeet Covid-19 Incident Command Facebook page provides the latest update and resources.

Big Horn County: The county's health officer issued an order on June 26 requiring, among other things, all people in Big Horn County to wear masks outside their homes.

Cascade County: On July 10, the Cascade City-County Health Department issued a public health order limiting gathering sizes. Indoor events are limited to 250 people, and outdoor events to 500.

The order also requires groups larger than 100 people to submit plans at least 10 days in advance.

Crow Reservation: An Aug. 6 executive order locked down the reservation until Aug. 21. Crow Tribe Chairman Alvin Not Afraid Jr. banned public gatherings and instituted a 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew for all residents.

The order also stated non-residents would be turned away at check stations on the reservation's major entry points.

There was no language reversing an earlier mask mandate for the reservation. 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. The reservation issued a community announcement on July 31, reminding residents precautionary measures such as mandatory testing when returning to the reservation were still in place.

Fort Peck Reservation: On July 31, Fort Peck Tribal Chairman Charles Headdress announced the tribe was instituting a mandatory mask order the following week.

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.

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.

Northern Cheyenne Reservation: A tribal executive order issued July 31 updated the tribe's emergency orders, and made masks mandatory indoors.

An Aug. 7 order amended the July one. A reservation-wide lockdown is now in effect through Wednesday, August 19, after failure to follow existing health mandates targeting coronavirus spread led to a surge in cases.

The heightened order implements road checkpoints on tribal and Bureau of Indian Affairs roads and will phase-in controlled access onto the southeast Montana reservation. Travel is restricted to essential needs only, and non-residents will be asked to leave the reservation.

This Checkpoint Plan is funded through Dec. 30.

The amending order extended the tribe's shelter-in-place mandate. It continues after the lockdown lifts, and now continues until Aug. 31. The mandate requires a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. for residents under 18 and masks in public places. It forbids large public or private gatherings.

It also recommends avoiding travel to coronavirus "hot spots" such as Yellowstone and Big Horn counties.

The N.C. Tribal Council Community Broadcasting Network Facebook page seems to be a good source for updates.

Rocky Boy's Reservation: An Aug. 7 resolution from the Chippewa Cree Tribal Business Committee issued an emergency curfew mandate, which will be immediately followed by a reservation lockdown period.

Emergency curfew ended 6 a.m. on Wednesday, August 12. The reservation is now in a lockdown period, which runs until 6 a.m. on Sunday, August 16. The lockdown:

• Limits access to designated entry points, and to specific categories of people

• Limits residents to "one trip for esssentials per day"

• Limits vehicles to one passenger

• "...shall limit tribal operations and all other businesses located withing the exterior boundaries of the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation."

The tribe's mask mandate remains in place, and residents returning from out-of-state travels must quaranting for 14 daysThe Chippewa Cree Tribe of Rocky Boy Montana Facebook page provides community and reservation updates. 

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:

Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest: According to the Forest's list of recreation site openings, all sites should be open.

Bitterroot National Forest: All sites have reopened from coronavirus closures, but some now have limitations for safety reasons. The Larry Creek Group Site is "open with limitations due to group size." The Shumaker Campground is closed due to snow.

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

Custer-Gallatin National Forest: All sites should be reopened from their pandemic closures, but wildlife activity is another matter. The Custer-Gallatin's Facebook page is a good source for the latest updates on campground and trail conditions, including closures due to bear activity.

Flathead National Forest: According to this Facebook post on site re-openings, all fee campgrounds are open. The Forest's Facebook page seems to be the best place for the latest updates.

Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest: According to the website's latest update, most Forest campgrounds and rental facilities like cabins should be open. The Forest's Facebook page posts more recent updates.

Kootenai National Forest: All cabin and recreation sites are now open, although offices are still closed as staff work remotely. Visitors are encouraged to visit the Forest’s recreation update page and Facebook page for the latest updates.

Lolo National Forest: According to this list of opening dates on the Forest's website, almost all sites should be open.

Siria Campground is closed and the Lake Alva group campsite is closed, but only temporarily. The Pattee Canyon Group Picnic area seems to be reopening in stages, with Group Site B opened on July 13. The other two Pattee Canyon group sites remain closed.

National parks in Montana are following individualized plans:

Glacier National Park: On Monday, July 13, the Going-to-the-Sun Road was opened to cars as far as the Rising Sun Motor Inn. This means visitors can now reach Logan Pass at the road's peak.

Despite long lines at its western entrance, the park will not be implementing a ticketing system for entry. For more information, check out the latest press release on the park's COVID-19 operations.

The eastern gates are currently closed for the season. A June 25 resolution from the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council closed off all access roads to the Glacier's eastern border for the rest of the tourist season.

Some of the park services including campgrounds and visitor centers are still set to open later in the season, while others like the park shuttle won't be available at all. Per the park's phased reopening:

“This plan articulates the phased reopening sequence that is focused on protecting the park employees, volunteers, partners, and the public. Visitor service operations will start conservatively and will expand if conditions allow, or contract if necessary. There will be fewer staff and services available in the park in 2020.”

For the lastest updates, park officials recommend checking the park's website.

Visitors should come prepared, and should follow all CDC and local health guidance by practicing good hygiene and social distancing. 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.

Yellowstone National Park began a partial reopening on May 18, allowing visitors to enter through its Wyoming gates. The Montana entrances near West Yellowstone, Gardiner and Cooke City opened June 1.

All of this is in accordance with the Park's phased reopening plan, which dicatates visitors will have limited access to some services and the park overall will remain day-use only. Visitor centers and campgrounds are currently closed. Check out the Park's news releases for the latest updates.

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.