Lewis and Clark County’s public health officer is expressing concern over statewide rollbacks to COVID-19 restrictions, particularly when they clash with local rules.
Effective Jan. 15, Gov. Greg Gianforte removed statewide restrictions on capacity and hours of operation at bars, restaurants, casinos, breweries, distilleries and other businesses. However, restrictions on these types of businesses remain in place in Lewis and Clark County.
Drenda Niemann, health officer at Lewis and Clark Public Health, explained that Montana law allows local jurisdictions to be more strict, but not less strict, than the state when it comes to health directives. For example, Niemann said statewide face covering requirements extend to all counties regardless of any local rules or regulations.
In Lewis and Clark County, bars, restaurants, casinos, breweries, distilleries and gyms may not operate at more than 50% capacity and must close at 10 p.m. Niemann said this is because the county’s “triggering criteria score” is more than 33. Niemann said that as local cases decrease, there will be adjustments to these local restrictions.
Niemann said she anticipates some issues and inevitable confusion when it comes to the differences in local and statewide directives.
“Our complaint-driven process will provide evidence if businesses are struggling to follow local rules,” Niemann said. “Our enforcement process would then kick in. First complaint results in an education call, which gives us an opportunity to inform businesses that our local rules remain in place regardless of changes to the state directives lifting restrictions.”