Governor: Further Openings and Possible Phase II by June 1

Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter
Thursday, May 21, 2020
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Courtesy photo
Governor Bullock is monitoring the current health and safety compliance in Yellowstone National Park before determining to open all Park gateways in Montana.

Governor Steve Bullock announced a target date if all goes well, for lifting the 14 day quarantine for out of state tourists and some of the restrictions on June 1, but said even at Phase Two that most of Phase One directives for employers would continue to stay in place for employee and customer safety. 

On a media call on Tuesday, May 19, he said it would be another two weeks before allowing increased capacity for restaurants, bars, gyms can go to 75 percent and groups of over 50 can gather-all with social distancing. Guidelines for vulnerable citizens-those over 65 or with health issues would continue. Employer allowance should be made for telework to continue. Local health departments can provide surveillance testing for front line and tourists with State support. 

Bullock said however, that permitting Phase Two depends upon the continued success of current behavior throughout the state.

 Last week, Bullock provided updates on the state budget and to discuss the state’s historically strong financial position heading into the COVID-19 pandemic.  He spoke of further Phase One openings.

Bullock insisted on ending the last legislative session with a responsible budget and a rainy-day fund that allows Montana to continue providing the essential services Montanans rely on while other states are struggling.  He said, “I’m glad we have left that money. We are preserving key essential services. We will know more as time goes on.” Bullock said he worked hard to keep that reserve fund. For this current budget period there is a $360 million surplus. He said, “The $360 million general fund ending balance allowed us to transfer $57 million into the Budget Stabilization Reserve, filling it to the maximum allowed under state law at $117 million. The Budget Stabilization Reserve was created in the 2017 legislative session.”

 In 2013, Governor Bullock created the Fire Fund. He said, “The Fire Fund is at $55 million, putting us in a strong position heading into this wildfire season. The Fire Fund was nearly doubled at the end of the end of last fiscal year, through a $30 million transfer, because of conservative management by state agencies.”

There is a current budget projection of a $113 million reserve fund by June 30 of next year. Acknowledging that he has received some pressure to cut jobs in anticipation of future deficits, Bullock has refused saying that this is not the time when so many people are already unemployed. Instead, he said, “We’ll manage projections.” He expects some significant tax revenue on July 1 and with the CARES Act and other funds he believes that the State will end up “reliably close” to its 2-year budget projection with a “considerable cushion as we start to see the impacts of the pandemic.”

He is taking steps to offset potential revenue reductions by saving money. “For example,” he said, “we don’t fill all necessary positions.” They check closely on State agencies’ use of the money received.

Bullock maintains with good executive management shortfalls can be addressed by continuing mitigation efforts. He adds, “It’s all concerning. We are in the midst of a global pandemic. Every state has concerns.” 

Bullock updated additional Phase One guidelines giving gyms, movie theaters, and museums the option to reopen beginning Friday, May 15, as long as they adhere to strict guidelines limiting capacity, requiring social distancing, and imposing thorough sanitation requirements.

“In consultation with public health experts, we have determined that these businesses can carefully reopen under strict capacity, social distancing, and sanitation guidelines,” Governor Bullock said. “As Montana continues to aggressively manage the virus and we move forward with the plan to reopen, I am again reminding Montanans that social distancing is vital to continue curbing the virus. All of us must do our part to stay open and stay on a path of decline in positive cases.”

Fitness studios, gyms and pools in gyms can begin operating at 50 percent capacity and with strict guidelines. Hand sanitizer must be available, employees should wear masks and guests should wear masks when possible. A six-foot distance must be maintained between equipment and in locker rooms. Indoor group classes may not be offered and outdoor group classes can be conducted as long as social distancing is maintained and in groups of 10 or fewer if appropriate physical distancing is not possible.

Gym pools are allowed to operate at half capacity as well. The CDC has indicated that properly maintained pool water inactivates the virus. Guidance was also issued this week to allow pools at licensed public accommodations (Hotels, Motels, Bed and Breakfasts, Tourist Homes, etc) to operate if at a 50 percent capacity and with additional social distancing and safety measures.

Museums and theaters must keep their capacity at 50 percent and maintain six feet between non-family members or the immediate party. Hand sanitizer or hand washing stations must be available and each venue needs a written COVID-19 response plan.  At museums, gift shops are also limited to 50 percent capacity.

Other places of assembly such as performance theaters, concert halls, bowling alleys, bingo halls, music halls, and pools that are not in gyms or at a licensed public accommodation shall remain closed. Gatherings should continue to be avoided in groups of more than 10 people in circumstances that do not readily allow for appropriate physical distancing. Senior living and assisted living facilities must continue to restrict visitors. The 14-day travel quarantine remains in effect. 

Bullock was pressed to know when he will consider Phase II. Responding that it has only been Phase I for a week or so he said, “We will continue to monitor changes. Some rural counties have higher numbers.”

Regarding Yellowstone National Park, he is in discussion with federal, State, and county officials. Bullock wants to see what kind of monitoring the Park is doing, and the level of compliance by travelers for non-business purposes with the 14-day quarantine before opening Montana’s entrances.  “As far as what it means, that’s one of the things we have to take a look at.” He said Glacial National Park is not looking at opening until at least June 15. 

See for further updates and guidelines.