Judge Tells Bozeman Bar to Follow Health Directives on Virus

The ruling came as health officials across the country face pushback over virus-related regulations

By Associated Press

BOZEMAN – A Montana judge on Wednesday ordered a Bozeman bar to comply with health directives — including a 10 p.m. closing time — meant to limit the spread of the coronavirus in another case of businesses pushing back against the rules.

District Judge Rienne McElyea issued the preliminary injunction in the lawsuit by the Gallatin City-County Board of Health against the Rocking R Bar. The order will remain in effect through March 1, NBC Montana reported.

The judge said the ruling in the case was not final because all the evidence had not been heard.

The ruling came as health officials across the country face pushback over virus-related regulations.

Elsewhere in Montana, the state heath department sought orders for five Flathead County businesses to enforce directives, but a judge denied a preliminary order.

The businesses filed counterclaims arguing the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services targeted and hurt them financially. They are seeking damages, attorney fees and a judgment saying the health department does not have the authority to enforce the governor’s directives.

In Helena, a group of individuals and business owners sued outgoing Gov. Steve Bullock on Monday seeking to undo health directives requiring face coverings and business restrictions meant to stem the spread of COVID-19, Lee Newspapers of Montana reported.

The group, called Stand Up Montana, says it is comprised of 300 individuals and business entities.

Bullock leaves office on Jan. 4. Gov.-elect Greg Gianforte has not said if he’ll continue any of the directives issued by Bullock, although he said he will require mask use and temperature checks in his office along with regular COVID-19 testing, distancing measures and regular cleaning and sanitizing.

In Bozeman, the Rocking R Bar has remained open past 10 p.m. on several occasions despite warnings that it was violating health rules, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported.

Brian Gallik, attorney for the bar, argued that the mandated closing time was arbitrary and legally unenforceable.

Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert countered that young people who frequent bars are likely contributing to an increase in the transmission of COVID-19 in the county.

Owner Mike Hope said his business is down about $250,000 this year and the 10 p.m. closure time further hurt his bottom line.

“It’s about my industry as a whole and it’s about the survival of my industry,” Hope said Tuesday.

The Rocking R received $71,500 in federal virus relief aid distributed by the state, according to the Department of Commerce.

State health officials have been clear that crowds in closed spaces increase the risk of virus transmission, and that as people drink alcohol inside bars compliance with the rules decreases.

Since the pandemic began, Montana has confirmed more than 74,600 cases of COVID-19 and at least 836 deaths. The number of cases is believed to be far higher because not everyone is tested and people can be infected without having symptoms.

Just over 310 people remained hospitalized Wednesday.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.