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Counties Across Montana Begin To Reopen Under New Restrictions

An "Open" sign for a business.
Deb Beatty Mel
Public Domain
Under phase one of Montana’s reopening plan, restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries and casinos can open their doors Monday. ";

Under phase one of Montana’s reopening plan, restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries and casinos can open their doors Monday. Counties across the state are taking varying approaches in what’s required for businesses.

Food and drink establishments must adhere to strict physical distancing guidelines and operate with half capacity. All patrons must be out by 11:30 p.m.

Gallatin County Health Officer Matt Kelley said Friday the department has issued reopening guidance for eateries and is relying on education and social enforcement.

“One good example of this is smoking on an airplane. We have rules against smoking on an airplane, but frankly, we probably don’t need those rules as much as we once did because people understand that’s the expectation. And if someone lit a cigarette on an airplane, I think they would have people around them telling them to put the cigarette out,” Kelley says.

Kelley said the health department hosted 10 webinars for business owners and religious leaders to answer questions last week, with more scheduled. Kelley said registered sanitarians will be sent out across the county this week for on site visits.

“It won’t be announced visits, but they’re also not going to be a ‘gotcha visit.’ They’re going to be walking into the establishment. Having conversations, asking if people have questions, offering advice. If they see problems, they’ll record those problems, and then we’ll probably follow-up in the future," Kelley says.

Some counties, like Yellowstone, are requiring establishments that offer dine-in service to submit a plan showing how they’ll implement physical distancing and other infection control policies.

That plan must be approved by county Environmental Health Services before the business reopens and the notice of approval must be displayed at restaurants’ main entrances.

More than 400 of Yellowstone County’s 500 plus food service establishments had received approval as of Wednesday.

The Central Montana Health District, which spans six counties, is adopting Yellowstone’s business approval plan after the Governor’s Office sent it out as a template.

Registered Sanitarian Meagan Spry said it was unclear whether approval was required based on the governor’s office’s communication.

Spry said businesses had very little time to comply and that about half of the 300 licensed businesses, which include restaurants, bars and casinos, had submitted their applications as of Friday.

Though all businesses must comply with the statewide reopening guidance, counties can enact stricter requirements throughout the three phases of reopening.