Downtown Shoppers

Three shoppers gather to look at a phone while strolling Main Street on Tuesday afternoon in downtown Bozeman.

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Gov. Steve Bullock announced Tuesday that Montana will begin the second phase of reopening on June 1.

The next step in the state’s reopening allows gatherings of 50 people instead of 10. However, gatherings of more than 50 will be permitted as long as attendees maintain a social distance and organizers work with public health officials on safety protocols.

Retail stores, restaurants, bars and other businesses will be able to increase their capacity to 75% as long as they keep everyone 6 feet apart.

All gyms, indoor group fitness classes, some pools and hot tubs will be able to operate. While some could reopen Friday, the remainder can open on June 1 with limited capacity if they adhere to social distancing requirements.

Other gathering spaces, such as concert halls and bowling alleys, will be able to operate at reduced capacity with social distancing. Some of these spaces — namely movie theaters and museums — could open last Friday.

Visitors from other states will no longer need to quarantine for 14 days after entering Montana beginning June 1. This is a change from Bullock’s initial reopening plan, which kept the self-quarantine requirement in the plan’s second phase.

Bullock said he made the change based on the low number of cases in Montana and the planning state and local government can do before June 1 to increase testing, monitoring and treatment capacity in tourist areas.

The Montana entrances to Yellowstone National Park are likely to open June 1. Bullock said he is working with other government officials on a reopening schedule for Glacier National Park.

The National Guard will remain stationed at major airports and train stations to screen passengers and refer those with COVID-19 symptoms to health care providers.

Bullock said he will work with gateway towns, such as West Yellowstone and Gardiner, to conduct surveillance testing of employees, bolster contact tracing, provide personal protective equipment, create guidelines for businesses that see significant tourist traffic and find places for people to safely isolate or quarantine if necessary.

“While our economy certainly relies on and we appreciate our visitors, we want to make sure that those visitors don’t bring problems from their home state to our state,” Bullock said.

Older people and those with preexisting health conditions should remain at home during the second phase of reopening, and senior living facilities will remain closed to visitors.

The governor advises people to continue to practice good hygiene and use face masks when in public places where social distancing is difficult. People who are sick should stay home.

Employers are asked to continue social distancing and use enhanced cleaning and safety protocols. Telework is still encouraged.

“Not following these guidelines could put us in a position where we have to go backward instead of being able to continue to move forward,” Bullock said.

Local governments can implement more stringent restrictions than the statewide plan.

So far, the Gallatin City-County Board of Health has followed the governor’s reopening guidelines. The board will discuss the new guidelines at their meeting on May 28, said county spokesperson Whitney Bermes.

Bullock said the decision to move into phase two of reopening is based on discussions with public health and business representatives, the continued decline in new cases, the capacity to conduct contact tracing and the ability of health care providers to treat all COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients.

The state is also expanding testing and hopes to eventually conduct 60,000 tests per month, with a particular focus on nursing homes and tribal communities.

“I feel confident that both the stay-at-home order and the first gradual phase of our reopening gave us the time that we needed to bolster, even further, our preparations and our response,” Bullock said. “We can continue to contain COVID-19 in Montana.”

The third — and final — phase of reopening will be a lifting of all restrictions. While there will be no cap on the size of gatherings, people will be asked to limit time in crowded places. Visitors will be able to go to senior living facilities and vulnerable groups will be able to leave home.

Bullock said he doesn’t yet know when the final phase will occur.

Bullock announced Montana’s reopening plan on April 22. Since then, businesses have gradually reopened with limited capacity to promote social distancing and with more stringent health and safety standards.

Montana now has the lowest number of cases and hospitalizations per capita in the country.

“The gains we’ve had are because we’ve taken this seriously,” Bullock said.

As of Tuesday, Montana had 471 cases — one more than the previous day. Of those, 18 were active with five hospitalizations. The state has also had 437 recoveries and 16 deaths.

Gallatin County had no active cases on Tuesday. The county has had 148 recoveries and one death.

However, Bullock cautioned that the continued reopening could lead to an increase in cases of COVID-19.

“Every step that we take beyond a stay-at-home order and closing down all businesses indeed presents the risk of more transmission,” he said.

Correction: An earlier version misstated the capacity at which pools can open. 

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