GREAT FALLS — Governor Steve Bullock on Wednesday announced "Re-opening The Big Sky," a three-phase plan to re-open businesses, schools, and more as COVID-19 closures and restrictions are gradually rescinded. We talked on Thursday with Trisha Gardner, the health officer of the City-County Health Department in Great Falls, to get her thoughts on it.
"Of course, the concern always is, will that re-opening process allow more people to potentially become infected with the virus?" said Gardner.
Among the highlights of the plan is that restaurants, bars, casinos, and breweries can become operational beginning on May 4. Restaurants have been restricted to take-out and delivery only for more than a month, Phase 1 of the plan will allow restaurants to resume dine-in service beginning on May 4th - provided they follow strict guidelines to ensure sanitary practices and limit the number of people inside.
Gardner said, "When they are first allowed to initially re-open, it will be at a 50 percent capacity, and they have to have tables spread out and no more than six people at a table. Each business has to take into consideration how they operate already, what kind of staff they have, and if they can stick to that 50% and the cleaning guidelines and still operate sufficiently". says, Gardner
The plan also allows salons, barber shops, and nail parlors to re-open; Gardner said, "Personal care type business, they are encouraged to wear cloth masks for themselves and their patrons when they are coming in. They still have to comply with the six-foot distancing between the set-ups. If there is a chair for a haircut, it's the individual giving the haircut, and the individual giving the haircut you must be six feet away from the station."
As for the overall COVID-19 situation in Cascade County, Gardner noted, "We haven't had a big spike in cases in 14 days; our overall numbers have been going down." She says the county is prepared if there is a spike in new cases: "Right now, we have the testing capability, our hospitals are prepared, our local health department is prepared to respond."
Here is the portion of the re-opening plan regarding restaurants, bars, and casinos:
- A specific cleaning plan must be implemented, and employees must be trained in proper sanitation practices.
- All surfaces occupied must be cleaned between customers, including tables, chairs, booths, and highchairs.
- Table items including, condiments, menus, napkins, and décor, should be removed from the table unless they can be adequately cleaned between customers.
- Menus must be cleaned between customers.
- Growlers and refillable or reusable containers must be cleaned prior to being refilled.
- Gaming machines must be adequately cleaned between customers.
- Capacity must be limited to 50% of normal operating capacity to allow for adequate group spacing.
- Tables must be limited to six people per table.
- Establishments must provide for 6 feet of physical distancing between groups and or tables by increasing table spacing, removing tables, or marking tables as closed; providing for a physical barrier between tables; or back-to-back booth seating provides adequate separation.
- In-house dining for quick service restaurants should remain closed, if all guidelines can’t be met, including the cleaning of every table between customers.
- Sitting or standing at bars or counters is not allowed.
- In bars, drinks and food must be served to customers at a table.
Here are more highlights from the first phase of the "Re-opening The Big Sky" plan:
- The "stay at home order" will expire on April 26 for individuals and April 27 for businesses. Retail businesses can become operational on or after April 27 if they can adhere to requirements to limit capacity and maintain strict physical distancing.
- Businesses where groups gather without the ability to social distance including movie theaters, gyms, and other places of assembly remain closed.
- Places of worship can become operational on April 26 in a manner consistent with social distancing between people who are not members of the same household.
- On May 7, all schools will have the option to return to in-classroom teaching delivery at the discretion of local school boards. Great Falls Public Schools superintendent Tom Moore says that a decision for Great Falls schools will not be made until May 4th..
The above information is just a brief summary of key points; click here for more details of the re-opening plan.