HELENA — The Lewis & Clark City-County Board of Health has expanded the hours that gyms, bars, restaurants and casinos can operate. They also increased the number of people allowed at events that do not have an approved health plan.
Bars, restaurants, casinos and gyms are now able to operate from the hours of 4:00 a.m. to midnight. They had previously been required to close at 10:00 p.m. under county COVID rules. Breweries will still need to follow existing state laws which require them to close by 8:00 p.m.
Bruce McCullough, owner of Miller’s Crossing and president of the Tri-County Hospitality Association, advocated for the change for public safety reasons.
McCullough says members of the Tri-County Hospitality Association have seen a lot of people leave Lewis and Clark County at 10:00 p.m. to cross county lines into Jefferson County where there is no restriction on how late bars can be open.
“When things close down here the amount of traffic and people that were driving that four miles to those taverns were packing those places full. And then having to turn around and drive back to Lewis and Clark County at midnight or two o’clock in the morning. I and my association saw it as a potential public safety issue,” said McCullough.
The majority of Tri-County Hospitality Association participate in “Home Free” which provides free rides through Uber to help people get home that have been drinking.
McCullough says the change will have a big economic impact on businesses, including servers and bartenders.
“It helps our employees get their hours back,” said McCullough. “In some situations 50 percent of our day happens between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. That’s a major part of [the servers and bartenders] income. They depend on those tips to make their ends meet.”
McCullough also stressed that COVID prevention can’t solely fall on the shoulders of businesses. He asks the entire community to do their part to follow guidelines and not go out when feeling sick.
In addition to the expanded hours for some businesses, the Lewis and Clark City-County Board of Health increased the cap for the number of people at an event without an approved plan by Lewis and Clark Public Health (LCPH) from 25 to 50 people. School sanctioned events remain an exception to the attendance limit.
The health board also placed a ban on selve-serve buffet style food service until COVID restrictions have been completely lifted.
There have been more than 400 COVID cases in Lewis and Clark County from Jan. 15-28, averaging at around 30 new cases each day.
LCPH strongly encourages people to continue to follow COVID guidelines by wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, limiting gatherings and staying home when sick.
More information about county COVID guideline and planned vaccination clinics can be found on LCPH website.