Montana Public Radio

Montana Coronavirus Closures, Restrictions And Exemptions

Oct 19, 2020

Updated 10/19/20

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's a guide to what's open, closed or restricted in Montana as of October 14, 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 are now reopened 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. It applies apply only to counties with "four or more confirmed and active COVID-19 cases," and only during the times this remains true. 

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."

On Aug. 12, a governor's directive extended the mask mandate to all public and private schools in the qualifying counties. Regardless of active case numbers, all Montanans 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:

Yellowstone County: As of October 14, Group gatherings in Yellowstone County will be limited to 25 people, regardless of whether they can maintain physical distancing or be outside. Exceptions include schools, child care facilities, in-person voting and cafeterias for schools, hospitals and care facilities, crisis shelters and airport concessionaires. The order will also limit houses of worship to 75 percent capacity. This order is in effect until at least Nov. 09.

Blackfeet Indian Reservation: Starting Sept. 27, the reservation is under a 14-day mandatory shutdown. The resolution was passed during an emergency Tribal Business Council meeting "based on the recommended by our Public Health Officials. For every 2 tests, 1 is positive."

The Blackfeet Covid-19 Incident Command said more details on the shutdown are coming, but added that law enforcement will be ready to cite and fine those not complying with the shutdown.

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

On Sept. 18, the tribal council approved a third amendment to the tribe's COVID-19 ordinance. The addition created a "civil enforcement process for violations of isolation and quarantine."

Masks are required in public for everyone over 2 and failure to wear one will result in $100 fine.

Crow Reservation: Citing a trend of increasing coronavirus cases, Crow Tribe Chairman Alvin Not Afraid Jr. issued another executive order on Sept. 15 limiting reservation activity

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 pm until 6 am daily.

Crow Tribal Chairman AJ Not Afraid issued an executive order Oct. 18 that requires tribal campaign rallies to be held drive-up style. The order also restricts social gatherings to 50 people and institutes a daily curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. The new restrictions will be in place until November 8.

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.

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: 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 continue avoiding 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.

The complete weekend lockdown begins 6 a.m. on Oct. 10 and ends 6 a.m. Oct 12.The lockdown and curfew were put in place September 23.

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. 

Tribal leadership advised reservation residents to complete their shopping before the weekend lockdown and to avoid any non-essential travel.

Bureau of Indian Affairs police are enforcing the curfew and lockdown. BIA road checkpoints have been in place on the reservation since August 7. BIA officers issued 20 citations this month to violators of the emergency order.

The Northern Cheyenne tribe and Big Horn County have been particularly hard hit by COVID-19. At least 24 Northern Cheyenne tribal members have died since the pandemic began.

The N.C. Tribal Council Community Broadcasting Network 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.

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, 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.

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.

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

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 that visitors have limited access to some services and the park overall will remain day-use only.

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.