Following a meeting on Friday, March 12, the Gallatin County Board of Health voted to change the local health rule that governs gathering sizes to increase the limit on group numbers for indoor and outdoor venues. The decision comes  amid  a downward trend in the number of COVID-19 cases in the county.

“There’s some promising news and I think some promising aspects of the epidemiology that I hope will allow us to continue this reopening in the weeks ahead,” Gallatin County Health Officer Matt Kelley said in his report to the Board.

Kelley identified the low rate of current COVID-19 hospitalizations, which is in the single-digits, as one of the most important points in that data, as well as a low number of cases in long-term care and assisted living facilities. 

Under the newly-amended rule, outdoor events can expand to up to 250 people and indoor events up to 150 people, so long as appropriate steps are taken by event managers to maintain social distancing. Before the amendment, a maximum of 25 people were allowed to gather at both indoor and outdoor events. 

For indoor events of more than 50 people, all guests are required to be seated with no more than six guests per table and with tables at least six feet apart. The six-person limit does not include people under 18 with their parent or guardian. Events such as trade shows, where everyone isn’t necessarily seated, are also allowed as long as they are hosted with a layout that ensures social distancing and controls the number of people entering and exiting. 

Outdoor events with more than 50 people would need to be organized so that household groups are at least six feet apart. The rule prohibits any uncontrolled activities, such as dancing, that are prone to unpredictable interactions between guests. If event sponsors want to host an outdoor event with more than 250 guests, they can submit a plan to the Environmental Health Services branch of the health department at least 30 days prior to the gathering for approval.

The same venues that were exempt from the group size limit under the prior rule are exempt under the altered rule, such as places of worship, schools and retail businesses. Newly included in the exemption are outdoor competition venues, such as Bobcat Stadium, with established seating arrangements.

In the process of designing the new rule, the health department consulted members of the Board as well as residents who made public comments in the past asking for an increase in group size limits. 

The board members voted unanimously to adopt the rule change. “I really like that we can open this up and do so in a really meaningful way but also in a careful way to protect our community,” Board chair Becky Franks said. 

The Board will meet again in early April to discuss whether to amend the other COVID-19 emergency health rules currently in place, including the county mask mandate and quarantine and isolation requirements, or decide to allow them to naturally expire at their Tuesday, April 20 deadline.