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An optimistic summer: Gallatin Board of Health votes to allow larger gatherings

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By Mira Brody EBS STAFF

BOZEMAN – At a special meeting on March 12, the Gallatin County Board of Health voted to amend the county’s Phase 2 reopening plan, allowing for indoor gatherings of up to 150 people and outdoor gatherings of up to 250 people with physical distancing measures in place, changing the way much of the summer will look like for weddings, music events and other gatherings.

“I would say that weighs on us pretty heavily,” said Health Officer Matt Kelley, speaking of the balance between public safety and business survival. “That some businesses have not been able to operate with the restrictions that are put in place, and in talking to some of these business owners … we’re trying to find a way to strike that balance.”

Physical distancing measures include:

  • Events with more than 50 people must be seated at tables six feet apart with no more than six people per table. This limit does not apply to those under the age of 18 who are present with their parent or guardian.
  • Outdoor venues with more than 50 people are required to organize the event to maintain six feet between individuals and households.
  • Event sponsors are required to manage separate entries and exits and ensure the flow of foot traffic allows attendees to maintain six-foot physical distancing.
  • Prohibiting unstructured activities, such as dance floors, that do not allow six feet of distance between participants.

Exemptions to group size limitations include houses of worship, K-12 schools and universities, organized youth events, government offices and those businesses such as restaurants, gyms and other food service establishments already subject to existing capacity requirements. The rule also exempts museums, sit-down theaters and outdoor competition venues with established seating arrangements that adhere to physical distancing guidelines that do not exceed 50 percent of capacity for the venue.

Kelley ended on a note of optimism—he says data trends, alongside vaccines, are good signs for the spring and summer ahead. Vaccine appointments are seeing high demand, the county’s weekly allocations are coming in regularly and the doses that do arrive are not being wasted. Kelley estimates that about 20 percent of the county’s population has been vaccinated and that Gallatin County will soon receive federal aid with immunization services.

As of March 11, there are 23 new cases of COVID-19 in the county with 148 active cases. There are currently three hospitalizations and have been 55 deaths related to the virus. The number of COVID-19 cases in Gallatin County has remained fairly steady from late January through early March 2021, with a seven-day rolling average of cases ranging from 23 to 35 cases per 100,000 residents. According to the Harvard Global Health Institute, 25 cases per 100,000 of the population have been identified as the highest risk level.

“It’s been a year now since this pandemic has started,” said Health Board Chair Becky Franks just before the meeting began. “I want to honor each and every one of you as board members and also Matt [Kelley] as health officer and Lori [Christenson] and Tracy [Knoedler] at the Health Department. We all joined as staff as public health workers because we believe in it. This last year has really challenged our abilities and yet I feel really honored to have walked through this with each and every one of you.”

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