BILLINGS- Another sign of the times as COVID-19 numbers seem to improve across Montana: Billings city officials are now looking forward to getting back to business in person.
"You know, the vaccination is the light at the end of the COVID tunnel,” said Billings Mayor Bill Cole.
Starting Monday, city council members will get the chance to make policy while physically together at the community room of the Billings Public Library. They haven't had in-person meetings for over a year, when the coronavirus pandemic hit.
“So, I would expect that probably about two-thirds of the council will be there in person, and about one-third will be there on Zoom,” he said.
Still, taking part in Monday night’s April 5 work session virtually is still an option.
The move comes at a time when Montana is reporting no new COVID-19 deaths, and 123 more people were recovering across the state since Sunday evening.
“And over the last couple of weeks that light has gotten brighter and brighter,” said Cole. “I got my second dose the other day, and I'd encourage everyone to get vaccinated just as soon as they can.”
Along with that, Cole says one-third of all Montanans have had at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The City Council meetings will, for now, be held in a hybrid format. Council members can choose to either attend virtually or physically at the Billings Public Library community room.
Only 15 spectators can attend at a time, with overflow available in the lobby. Speakers will be asked to leave when they’re done talking.
“I hope this is the beginning of the end of some of these difficult precautions that we've had to take during the pandemic. But the reality is we don't really know exactly how this is all going to work out. This is a bit of an experiment,” he said. “I'm sure there are going to be some bugs that we'll have to work out.”
Cole says the council will take this step toward normalcy, with caution.
“We also want to follow the governor's February directive that encourages anybody attending an in-person event to follow carefully CDC guidelines and industry best practices, that means keeping social distance and wearing a mask,” said Cole.
Social distancing and mask-wearing will be enforced.
"We decided to meet in the library because it is larger than the regular city council chambers and will allow for the better social distancing of the council and of the public," said Cole.
And Cole says it’s especially important that folks get vaccinated if they wish to show up in person.
"By doing that we can protect ourselves, we can protect those who we care about, were close to us, and we can protect our economy."