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Bullock targeting second week of June for opening of Glacier

by COLIN GAISER
Daily Inter Lake | May 29, 2020 1:00 AM

Gov. Steve Bullock announced during a Thursday afternoon call with the press he is hoping to partially reopen Glacier National Park “the second week of June.”

Bullock did not set an exact date for the reopening, which for now will include just the west entrances. The east entrances will remain closed until the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council lifts its restrictions on non-essential travel.

Going-to-the-Sun Road will be open from West Glacier to Avalanche and private businesses in Apgar Village will be allowed to open, Bullock said.

Bullock also announced additional support for Montana’s “destination counties.” Using data from the Montana Department of Commerce, the governor’s office identified 20 counties that experience “high visitation per resident” from June to September. This includes Flathead, Glacier and Lake counties.

Starting June 1 – as Montana enters Phase Two of its Reopening The Big Sky Plan – businesses in these counties will be eligible to apply for a grant from the Montana Business Adaptation Program. The grant will provide reimbursements for COVID-19-related expenses, including personal protective equipment, communications tools and cleaning supplies.

Total funding available for this program is $20 million, with $5,000 the maximum reimbursement.

Bullock also announced a $15 million Tourism Education Program. The program will help the state Department of Commerce and Department of Public Health and Human Services lead the effort to carry out a statewide informational campaign to educate visitors to Montana.

Funding for these programs comes from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act.

Bullock also addressed bringing additional testing capabilities to Montana’s gateway communities. He said his staff is in contact with people such as Hillary Hanson, Flathead City-County health officer, to ramp up testing capabilities as more visitors begin entering the state.

The governor said he would provide additional resources to local providers to “develop an early warning system” for identifying new cases, to assist with contact tracing in the event of a positive test and help educate visitors on state and local restrictions surrounding COVID-19.

“We recognize we’re asking a lot of businesses and local public health,” Bullock said.

“As we reopen Montana, I ask that you listen to businesses … supporting local businesses is more than just giving them your patronage,” Bullock said, adding it is also about supporting what they do to keep themselves safe.

When the state enters Phase Two of its reopening plan on June 1, restaurants, bars, breweries and casinos will be able to increase their capacity to 75%, groups of up to 50 will be allowed as long as appropriate physical distancing can be maintained and the order will be lifted that visitors arriving from out-of-state quarantine for 14 days.

“The actions we took initially got us to where we are,” Bullock said. “It is not by chance that we have the fewest cases per capita” in the United States.

Montana is currently tied with Hawaii for the fewest cases per capita, with 45 per 100,000 residents.

The governor cautioned “we are not out of the woods yet,” and is continuing to ask that anyone with even one symptom of COVID-19 get tested, and that providers of tests comply.

Bullock said Montana has increased its number of tests conducted by 200% in the last two weeks.

As of Thursday morning’s update, Montana had 485 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 17 deaths.

A resource guide and grant application portal can be found at covidrelief.mt.gov.

Reporter Colin Gaiser may be reached at cgaiser@dailyinterlake.com