By Mira Brody EBS STAFF
HELENA – Motivated by what Gov. Steve Bullock calls a “breaking point in our hospitals,” he announced at a Nov. 17 press conference that he would be implementing new restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19. Starting Friday, Nov. 20, the statewide mask mandate is required for all Montana counties, regardless of exceptions regarding case numbers, with businesses, government buildings and indoor spaces all required to follow and enforce these mandates.
In addition, public gatherings are limited to 25 people or fewer where social distancing is not possible, and restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries and casinos can operate at a maximum of 50 percent capacity and must close no later than 10 p.m. Tables will be limited to six people per table and establishments are still required to maintain social distancing.
“These are decisions that I don’t take lightly, though they are a necessity,” said Bullock. “We all have to collectively recognize that this virus won’t stop spreading through our communities anytime soon unless we take action to stop the spread. The responsibility of doing that lies in each and every one of us.”
To offset lost revenue in the wake of these new restrictions, Bullock also announced additional funding for businesses affected by COVID-19 as well as additional payments for those on unemployment. From the CARES Act fund, he is allocating $75 million for additional Business Stabilization Grants.
Businesses who have already received a grant will receive an email inviting them to accept a third round of funding. To be eligible for funding, businesses must agree to comply with all state and local COVID-19 orders including the implemented mask requirements, social distancing, capacity and closing time restrictions.
Bullock will also be providing $25 million to the Montana Department of Labor & Industry to help unemployed Montanans. This will allow for an additional $200 per week payment, on top of regular Unemployment Insurance payments, beginning the week ending Nov. 8 through the week ending Dec. 19.
Bullock is also allocating $30 million to the state’s food banks and food assistance programs to help those families concerned about putting food on their table this holiday season. He also announced that 100 healthcare workers will be coming to the state to help alleviate hospital staff shortages and will announce additional details on this program early next week.