BUTTE — The wearing of face coverings in public places in Butte-Silver Bow remains mandated, under a Board of Health COVID-19 emergency rule adopted Dec. 22, 2020.
Butte-Silver Bow Health Officer Karen Sullivan underscored that on Wednesday, in the wake of Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte announcing he'll lift the statewide mask mandate, effective Friday.
In addition to the face-covering mandate, the Dec. 22 rule ordered 10 p.m. closure times at bars, restaurants, distilleries, breweries, casinos and gyms.
At a special meeting on Feb. 4, the Board of Health voted to lighten the closure restriction to 12:30 a.m. Remaining under the Dec. 22 rule is a requirement that establishments maintain 50 percent capacity. Also, those seeking to have a public gathering of more than 25 people require Health Department approval for the gathering.
At its regular meeting Wednesday morning, Board of Health members discussed metrics they follow to guide their decisions. These metrics include COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population and the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 in a defined time period, otherwise referred to as a positivity rate.
The Harvard Global Health Institute recommends that communities strive for 25 COVID-19 cases per 100,000.
The board on Wednesday authorized increasing that metric by 50 percent, to 37.5 cases per 100,000. If Butte-Silver Bow sees cases at 38 or above for a week or more, or an estimated 14 newly confirmed cases per day, establishment closure times would automatically revert to 10 p.m.
Health Officer Karen Sullivan said Wednesday that the community has recently achieved good performance on those metrics. The county’s positivity rate has been below 10 percent since Jan. 14.
The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services says that communities should strive for a positivity rate of 10 percent or less. The county achieved 23 cases per 100,000 population Wednesday.
“We have been striving for that metric to be below 25 cases per 100,000 population for a long time,” Sullivan said. “It’s just fantastic news.”
Sullivan said that if the county can maintain for two weeks a positivity rate of below 10 percent and cases below 25 per 100,000 population, the Dec. 22 rule would be modified to maintain the 12:30 a.m. closure time, capacity limits would move to 75 percent, and only gatherings of more than 50 people would require Health Department approval. The face-covering mandate would remain.
If those metrics are achieved for three weeks, the restrictions, including the face-covering mandate, would be lifted.
Sullivan said she was gratified by a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released Wednesday, showing that wearing a face-covering greatly reduces the risk of coronavirus infection.
“The new CDC research shows that any mask is good, but wearing a tight-fitting surgical mask or a cloth mask on top of a surgical mask is important, particularly as virus variants become more of a reality in our country,” Sullivan said. “The fact that wearing a mask can reduce virus transmission by up to 96.5 percent is information people should have and pay attention to.”
Sullivan also announced Wednesday that the fourth COVID-19 mass vaccination clinic conducted by Butte-Silver Bow’s Unified Health Command at the Civic Center resulted in the vaccination of 1,022 individuals.