By Bella Butler EBS STAFF
GALLATIN COUNTY – The Gallatin City-County Board of Health voted to adopt an emergency rule specific to Gallatin County guided by Gov. Steve Bullock’s Phase 2 reopening plan at a May 28 meeting.
The county’s emergency rule, which will take effect on June 1, notably permits businesses including restaurants, bars and gyms, among others, that were previously restricted to operate at 50 percent capacity to operate at 75 percent capacity. Group fitness classes, gyms, pools and hot tubs may do the same with proper sanitization and social distancing. Other places of assembly can operate with limitations.
In the governor’s Phase 2 reopening plan, he announced that the group gathering guideline of 10 people or fewer would expand to 50 people or fewer and further requested that local community leadership refine the guideline to accommodate the community’s specific circumstances. In the emergency rule approved by the board, the 50 people or fewer guideline was affirmed.
The rule also dictated what types of gatherings could reasonably be compliant with social distancing. “Due to the inherently unstructured and socially-focused nature of certain gatherings—such as wedding receptions, live music concerts, festivals, and fairs—such events cannot be conducted with appropriate physical distancing and pose a condition of public health importance. As a result, such events should be limited to 50 people or fewer,” the rule reads. The rule then adds that events of greater than 50 people may be permitted if social interactions are “predictable and manageable” through a number of controlled layout factors.
“It’s the biology, it’s the physics and it’s the chemistry of the bug that is really hard to deal with, and I want people to understand that,” Gallatin City-County Health Officer Matt Kelley said in response to multiple public comments arguing for greater leniency for weddings, a large economic driver in the Gallatin Valley.
The rule also includes what Kelley described as “discretionary language” that offers suggestions about face coverings. Face coverings are recommended to be worn in “businesses that provide essential services where social distancing is difficult and that provide services necessary to daily living …” This component of the rule is merely a suggestion, Kelley clarified, but was included as a response to local business owners’ expressed concerns for the safety of their staff.
Kelley said that the county rule is intended to mirror Gov. Bullock’s Phase 2 guidelines, as the board cannot be any less stringent than the state. The entrance into Phase 2 will also mark the termination of Montana’s 14-day travel quarantine for out-of-state travelers.
Consistent with Phase 1, the state and the county still recommend that vulnerable individuals remain at home when possible and other individual hygienic precautionary measures continue.
Kelley reminded the board that while case numbers have declined significantly, we are still living in a pandemic. “There’s a lot of individual responsibility involved in this,” he said.