HELENA — Governor Steve Bullock on Wednesday ordered all Montana public and private school buildings to require face masks in counties that have four or more active COVID-19 cases, as he said “encouraging” face masks at re-opened schools won’t be enough.
Bullock issued the directive as he implored Montanans to follow public-health recommendations to stop the spread of COVID-19. The state reported 175 new cases Wednesday, one of the highest daily counts in Montana so far.
He also announced several new business-assistance programs, including grants for live-entertainment venues and businesses near the east entrances of Glacier National Park and second grants for businesses that have already received one from the state.
Bullock also said the state is working on a new unemployment system that will give those out of work an additional $400 a week, to replace the $600 a week in federal funds that expired at the end of July. Congress has not approved any funds for that money, but Bullock said he’ll use cash from the earlier federal Cares Act to finance it for now.
The governor began his Capitol news conference by saying a local official had asked when the state could advance to “Phase 3” of re-opening Montana’s economy after COVID-19 shutdowns, which is basically no restrictions on businesses, gatherings, and other activity.
He said only two things could lead to that end: A vaccine, which is months away, or learning how best to live with the virus – which, he said, Montanans “clearly” haven’t done. "Learning to live with the virus … isn’t ignoring it, or denying it, or thinking it will magically disappear,” he said.
Bullock said he’s heard of many cases of Montanans ignoring public-health officials’ orders to quarantine, after they’ve tested positive for Covid-19, or not following basic social-distancing guidelines.
He pointed to Phillips County in north-central Montana, which has gone from zero cases to 68 cases in a week, stemming from an adult sports activity and subsequent outings to a bar and other locales. Phillips County had 15 new cases reported Wednesday, while Yellowstone County had 75 and rural Rosebud and Big Horn counties had 24 and 16, respectively.
The state has now reported 5,268 total cases since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak and 80 deaths.
Bullock said as schools prepare to re-open this fall, they are more likely to be successful in staying open if they require face coverings for those in school buildings.
While many schools are still considering that requirement or whether to encourage face masks, Bullock said “strongly encouraging” won’t be enough, and that he is expanding his earlier face-mask directive for public buildings and places of business to include all schools in counties with four or more active Covid-19 cases.
Twenty-seven Montana counties were at that threshold Wednesday, including all eight of the state’s most populous counties
The new grants for live-entertainment venues will be for 25 percent of the business’ 2019 gross revenue, with a maximum of $500,000 each. The grants for businesses near the east Glacier Park entrances will be for the same percentage of revenue, up to $40,000 per business.
Here is the full news release regarding the live-entertainments grants:
Governor Steve Bullock today announced he will direct $10 million in Coronavirus Relief Funds to create the Live Entertainment Grant Program to provide long term viability for the live entertainment industry.
“Live entertainment businesses that bring together large groups of Montanans and visitors have had to cancel or postpone all of their events during the pandemic. While that effort has certainly minimized transmission of COVID-19 and kept their customers and employees safe, it has greatly impacted their revenues and outlook,” Governor Bullock said. “This funding will offer support to the hundreds of workers employed in the live entertainment industry and provide long term support to businesses to ensure they can resume offering events that are fundamental to our quality of life, as soon as it’s safe to do so.”
As Montana continues making progress toward economic recovery and most sectors have reopened, live entertainment businesses across the state have remained closed due to health risks related to large gatherings or acts that have postponed touring.
To ensure entertainment businesses can survive extended closures and postponement, the Live Entertainment Grant Program will provide up to 25 percent of a business’ 2019 gross revenue or a maximum of $1,000,000 per applicant. The program is available to Montana based businesses and non-profits in the live entertainment business, and whose revenues primarily come from live entertainment events. Applicants must have derived at least 33 percent of their 2019 revenue from sale of tickets for live events and must be operating at less than 10% of last years’ revenue.
Bars, restaurants, and other facilities whose primary business is anything other than live entertainment are not eligible.
Applications will be evaluated on a first come first serve basis and will be open on August 12 at covidrelief.mt.gov.
Governor Bullock also announced he is doubling the funds available in the Business Stabilization Grant Program to provide working capital for small businesses that have seen their revenue decline as a result of the pandemic. Nearly 8,000 businesses that have already been awarded a Business Stabilization Grant are eligible to receive a second payment equal to the first, and new applicants as well as applications in progress are now eligible to receive up to 6 months of working capital or $20,000, whichever is less. Businesses eligible to receive a second grant will be contacted by the Montana Department of Commerce via email and should not submit a second application.
Additionally, Governor Bullock announced a grant program for businesses located along the east edge of Glacier National Park, which have been uniquely hit hard by the pandemic due to ongoing closures on that side of the park. Many businesses are entirely dependent on visitation to keep their operations running throughout the year. Supporting them now will ensure they can sustain their operations for next year’s tourism season.
Tourism reliant businesses in the East edge of Glacier National Park may be eligible to apply for a grant for up to 25 percent of their 2019 gross revenue or up to $40,000. To be eligible, businesses must be located along the eastern edge of Glacier National Park in the immediate vicinity of East Glacier, St. Mary or Babb and must be Montana based. The application will be available next week on covidrelief.mt.gov
Governor Bullock has allocated nearly 80% of the CARES Act dollars, with over $210 million of that awarded, to help Montanans, small businesses, nonprofits, farmers and ranchers, schools and local governments and more toward economic recovery. A transparency dashboard of awarded funds and a list of all allocated dollars is available at COVIDRELIEF.MT.GOV.