Bullock buckles down

Restaurants, bars and casinos put back to 50 percent capacity, 10 p.m. closures as gov. looks to slow sky-rocketing COVID-19 cases across the state
Thursday, November 19, 2020
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From Montana Disaster and Emergency Services

Soaring COVID-19 cases across the state have finally forced Gov. Steve Bullock to reimpose restrictions on certain businesses and gatherings in an effort to stem a trend that on Tuesday he called “serious.”

Citing rapidly rising infection numbers from community spread, hospitals that are filling up, healthcare workers who are falling ill and exhausted and a death count that jumped by 39 in a 2-day period, Bullock said that the state must work together to slow the spread of the virus or “our healthcare systems eventually will not be able to sustain this rate,” noting that 70 healthcare workers at the Kalispell Regional Hospital are out of service with the virus.

Effective this Friday, Nov. 20, are the following health measures:

-Residents should stay at home as much as possible to limit exposure to community spread of the virus, which Bullock noted is occurring in larger counties and rural areas alike.

-The entire state will be required to wear masks when in public. Since the summer, residents living in counties with at least four active COVID-19 cases were subject to this directive. At the time of Bullock’s announcement Tuesday afternoon, there were only two counties in the state that did not fall into that category.

Bullock cited a recent Centers for Disease Control discovery that indicates cloth face masks do help the wear er more than what was initially thought.

“My mask protects you and your masks protects me,” said Bullock.

-Restaurants, bars and casinos will be required to dial back operations to 50 percent capacity and must close at 10 p.m. This includes only restaurants, bars and casinos. Bullock said specifically that schools, churches and gyms can continue to operate as they currently are.

-A maximum of six people can be seated at a table, which is down from the current allotment of 10 people.

-There must be 6-feet distance between groups.

-All public gatherings will be limited to 25 people when social distancing is not possible. Again, schools and churches are exempt from this.

Bullock encouraged the public to keep groups even smaller at 15 — even inside of homes.

“These are restrictions that I don’t take lightly,” said Bullock. “We are all sick of this virus.”

When asked what finally made him re-impose restrictions, Bullock said he had hoped Congress would have delivered financial help in the form of a new stimulus package following the election, but that has not happened.

Bullock also said the state is closer than ever to a breaking point with hospitals and healthcare workers.

STATE FINANCIAL HELP

Bullock also announced financial help as well, which will come from the federal CARES Act money allotted to the state by Congress.

First, $75 million will be made available to businesses, with those that have previously received help still being eligible. This money will be awarded on the condition that the given business be in total compliance with the new restrictions.

Another $25 million is being made available through the Pandemic Assistance program, which will ensure that those who are unemployed or partially unemployed because of the pandemic receive an extra $200 per week. Bullock said there are currently 20,000 claimants receiving such benefits. The idea is that this extra money will be spent in state, thereby helping the overall economy.

Also, $3 million is being earmarked for food banks/food pantries “parents concerned about putting food on the table this holiday season,” said Bullock.

“This does not let Congress get off the hook,” said Bullock, noting that such financial needs will continue into 2021.

“Our economic progress is at great uncertainty as the virus spreads uncontrollably,” he said.

VACCINE

Bullock and Montana’s State Medical Officer Dr. Greg Holzman also spoke of two vaccines that appear to be on the immediate horizon for a small percentage of the public. So while there is light at the end of the tunnel, it’s a long tunnel for Montana and it will be months before a vaccine arrives locally.

Bullock said with COVID-19-related deaths expected to be the leading cause of deaths in the state this year, the time for immediate action is now.

“We need to turn things around in the next few months,” said Bullock.