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The Gallatin City-County Health Board will meet Thursday at 7 a.m. to consider the existing restrictions on businesses that aim to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The restrictions, which expire Thursday, require most businesses to operate at 50% capacity, to cap tables at six individuals and to close from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. except for takeout and delivery services. The restrictions also limit many group gatherings to 25 people.

The board will decide whether to extend the existing restrictions, eliminate them or change the business closing time to midnight.

The board first enacted the restrictions in November when the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths were climbing and the county’s health system was stretched thin.

At the time, board members said the rule could help reduce the number of new COVID-19 cases and ease the stress on local hospitals.

Some businesses pushed back, saying the curfew has made them unprofitable because they see most of their customers later in the evening.

The rule has also been the subject of a lawsuit. The health board and Health Officer Matt Kelley sued the Rocking R Bar in November for staying open past 10 p.m. on several occasions. A judge granted the county a preliminary injunction and ordered the bar to comply with the rule until March.

In January, Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte rescinded similar statewide restrictions on business operations and group gatherings, which were enacted by former Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock. Gianforte said local health boards could implement their own stricter rules.

Following Gianforte’s action, some counties have loosened their local health rules.

For instance, Lewis and Clark County decided last Thursday to allow businesses to stay open until midnight and increased the limits on gathering size from 25 to 50 people. The Cascade County Health Board has enabled businesses to operate at 75% capacity and remain open until 12:30 a.m. In Missoula County, bars and restaurants have been allowed to return to their regular hours of operations.

The Gallatin City-County Health Board had planned to evaluate the local business closing time at a Jan. 20 meeting but decided to postpone the decision until Thursday to better understand the impacts of the return of Montana State University students, the reopening of Bozeman schools to more in-person learning, the appearance of new variants of the virus and the county’s ongoing vaccination work.

The state of the pandemic locally has improved in the last few weeks.

Last week, the number of COVID-19 cases dropped to 35.3 per 100,000, the lowest in about a month. The positivity rate reached 5%.

Hospitalizations tied to COVID-19 have remained in the single-digits for the last several weeks.

As of Tuesday, the health department reported 284 active cases with eight hospitalizations. Forty-seven residents have died from COVID-19 and 11,147 have recovered.

The health board is accepting public comment on the business restrictions via email to BOHPublicComment@gallatin.mt.gov until 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Information on how to attend the virtual meeting is on the health department website.

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Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.