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"There's a sweet one-story on sale with plenty of backyard space for me!" If pets could talk, they might cite a recent National Association of Realtors® survey showing home buyers care about their pets.

Downtown Sidney restaurants, taverns and casinos open

Montana restaurants and bars reopened for sit-down business this week. Beginning Monday, May 4, the second week of phase 1 — “Reopening the Big Sky Phased Approach” — began throughout Richland County.

In addition, breweries, distillers and casinos were allowed to reopen on Monday under specific guidelines announced by Gov. Steve Bullock on April 22.

The document makes clear people should continue to practice common-sense hygiene, sensible sanitation practices and pragmatic social distancing. The three-phase approach provides clear guidelines for employers, including encouraging their employees to use protective face masks.

Employers are also asked to routinely check employees’ temperatures and collaborate with “public health on testing, isolating, and contact tracing.”

The initial aspect of phase 1 began April 26, when churches and other “places of worship” were allowed to resume activities with 50 or fewer people. The following day, retail businesses, barber shops and hair salons were allowed to reopen.

One of those Montana barber shops is owned by Marci Steedley.

She operates Klipper Kuts on South Central in Sidney. Steedley reopened for business a week ago. She cuts hair for people, and she grooms their best friends.

“I’ve had non-stop with the barber shop since Friday,” she said. “I’m booked two weeks out for dog grooming.”

Steedley was cleaning her shop’s front window on Sunday morning as she prepped for walk-ins.

“I was ready to come back two weeks ago,” said Steedley, who has had her barber’s license for 20 years. “The beginning of the month, the bills still come, you know....

“Now, we’ll just have to find out what stage two is so the theaters and all can open,” she added. “It’s nice weather. It really helps, especially with dog grooming.”

People are still advised to avoid social gatherings of more than 10 and to practice “appropriate physical distancing.”

The governor recently outlined a “framework” for ramping up COVID-19 testing in Montana. The long-term goal is to conduct 60,000 tests per month.

During a recent press conference, Gov. Bullock applauded Montanans for cooperating with his many directives over the past two months.

“It’s so important, as we open facets of our state, that we thank our neighbors,” Gov. Bullock said of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We have suppressed the virus in Montana.”

That said, it’s critical to remain vigilant about testing for COVID-19, the governor cautioned.

“We’re continuing to ask [health-care] providers to test anyone with one or more symptoms,” Gov. Bullock told the media, citing fever and persistent coughing. “If any Montanan has one or more of these symptoms, I’m asking you to get tested.”

The governor briefly addressed tracking individuals who test positive for COVID-19. However, he did not offer specific details about how the state intends to do so.

“The best way for us to keep the virus contained in Montana, in addition to social distancing, is through surveillance testing,” Gov. Bullock told the press. “Our goal is to take a sample within the community and test it.... Every time you get a positive, you want to minimize the possibility of that positive person [giving] the virus to someone else.”

Asked whether the state intends to enforce “contact tracing,” Gov. Bullock said local public-health officials are responsible for containing the spread of COVID-19 throughout their communities.

“To be candid...it’s not necessarily the state’s responsibility for contact tracing,” the governor said, pointing out health officials in Montana have been tracking COVID-19 from the moment the coronavirus entered the state.

“It happens at the local level,” he said of contact tracing.

A reporter asked how the coronavirus has impacted statewide tourism, which accounts for much of Montana’s economic prosperity during spring and summer months.

“I’d only take issue that anytime to visit Montana is a good time,” Bullock said. “Montana is the best place to be during a global pandemic.”

The guidelines for eating and drinking establishments — including breweries, distilleries and casinos — are mostly related to sanitizing and diligently cleaning tabletops and other surfaces, condiment containers, chairs, booths and other seating areas...menus — everything, really.

Casinos must also ensure that “gaming machines” are “adequately cleaned between customers.”

One of the most drastic changes for bars and taverns is they must close no later than 11:30 p.m. for the foreseeable future. In addition, people are only allowed to sit at tables (even in bars) during phase 1 of the reopening.

Gov. Bullock began the recent press conference by placing the phased approach in perspective and emphasizing the important role local communities play.

“Montana is certainly a small ‘town’ with a long main street, so to speak,” he said.

In Sidney, Central avenue — and other main streets — reopened for business this week with little fanfare and cautious optimism.

Sidney shows love for truckers

What more could a hard-driving trucker want after a windy ride?

A trio of local women and a whole bunch of sponsors answered that question with free food on Thursday evening and Friday afternoon at the Town Pump Truck stop in Sidney.

Lisa Ziler and Marissa Eberling of Sidney Sugars, and Debi Mayers from Rassier showed their appreciation for nationwide truck drivers by packing and handing out hefty bags of good eats.

In addition to Ziler, organizers included Dave Garland, also from Sidney Sugars; Bill Vander Weele, executive director of the Sidney Area Chamber of Commerce; and Leslie Messer of the Richland Economic Development Corp. (REDC). The chamber and REDC were key sponsors.

Truckers were given a Footers sub sandwich, chips, a soda or bottled water, cookies and a pack of gum — plus a complimentary sugar sample from Sidney sugars — and a COVID-19-inspired face mask.

The event began Thursday evening, when nearly three dozen truckers took advantage of the complimentary meal. It continued on Friday, starting at 11 a.m.

One of the truckers who got a Footers sub and additional treats was Marcus Hanson, 44, of Billings. Appropriately, he drives a double-trailer tanker truck for Town Pump.

John Lacy, 45, from North Carolina, was in town to refuel his big rig. He received a hand-delivered Footers sandwich, with all the extras.

In addition to Town Pump, Sidney Sugars and Footers, sponsors included Stockman Bank, Blue Rock Distributing, Big Sky Siding and Windows, Richland Economic Development Corp. (REDC), Lower Yellowstone Rural Electric Cooperative (LYREC), Reynolds Market, Reese & Ray’s IGA, Sidney Chamber of Commerce & Agriculture and ONEOK.

“The event was successful,” said Ziler. “We served 130 meals. Many of the truck drivers were very appreciative. Thanks to all that helped organize and work the event. I thought this was a worthy cause and was happy to get the Chamber and REDC on board.”

Former Sidney High School student earns academic honors

Peyton Beyerle has been named to the 2020 All-North Dakota Academic team. Beyerle was recognized for his academic achievements and leadership of community college students.

He was born and raised in Sidney, Mont., and graduated from Sidney High School.

Beyerle is pursuing an Associates of Science degree from Williston State College (WSC) and was a student ambassador, president of Student Senate, and a member of Phi Theta Kappa. Beyerle also worked as a math tutor and as a resident assistant in the dorms.

After graduating from WSC this spring, Beyerle plans to continue at North Dakota State University and pursue a degree in civil engineering.

Reminder: Sunday, May 10, Mother’s Day

Early to class, early to graduate, MSU Nursing school finds

Like thousands of other college students across the country, Montana State University nursing student Victoria Wallace-Arnold learned this spring that many of the milestones she had anticipated for her final semester could not happen as planned because of the novel coronavirus.

Classes would be moved online. Her clinical experiences would end earlier than anticipated. There would be no pinning ceremony, a special recognition celebrating entry into the nursing profession. Moreover, there would be no in-person commencement, a celebration that would have brought her parents, siblings and best friend to Bozeman from California and New Mexico to help recognize her hard work and achievements.

At first, it was a lot to take in, Wallace-Arnold admitted.

“I worked through a lot of grief over losing these milestones,” she said.

But she quickly embraced the online environment and worked hard to complete her coursework. And, not only did she complete it, but she did so sooner than planned as one of more than 60 MSU College of Nursing students who chose to graduate three weeks early. She said she took the option so that she “could get on the frontlines faster to help my fellow nurses and Montanans fight the pandemic.

“This opportunity is very meaningful to me because it supports the health care workforce and our community,” Wallace-Arnold said. “Many nursing students, including myself, have employers waiting for us to finish school and pass the boards. Early graduation expedites this process, getting new grad nurses like me in the workplace.”

The college decided to offer students an early graduation option to enable them to enter the workforce as soon as possible and help address a potential need for many more health care workers during the pandemic, said MSU College of Nursing Dean Sarah Shannon.

“In March, when we made the decision, Montana’s public health departments, hospitals and other care facilities were experiencing or anticipating significant shortages of nurses,” Shannon said.

She added that not only did the college want to help address the anticipated need for skilled health care workers, but students also specifically petitioned the college to allow them to graduate early so that they could help fill health care workforce needs.

Out of 104 graduating nursing students this semester, 61 completed their coursework by April 15 and fulfilled the necessary requirements to graduate early, Shannon said. She added that, despite having to transition their clinical rotations from in-person to virtual on March 23, the students fully completed all requirements.

“I am so proud of all of our extraordinary students for their hard work and dedication to their chosen profession,” Shannon said. “These 61 students are particularly inspiring for their desire to dive right in and put their education to use during this pandemic.”

Early graduation wouldn’t have been possible without help from a number of partners, Shannon said. In addition to students completing their assignments early, faculty had to accommodate two different groups of students — those graduating early and those graduating at the regular time — by submitting grades twice, among other measures.

MSU’s registrar’s office worked to enable early grade submission and to send the students’ final transcripts to the Montana Board of Nursing within just two to three days. University Police helped students complete the fingerprinting required for the federal background check to obtain a nursing license. And the Montana Board of Nursing worked with the college to quickly process the students’ transcripts so the new graduates could get their temporary practice permits.

“We in the College of Nursing feel a profound sense of gratitude to all of these partners,” Shannon said. “Early graduation wouldn’t have been an option without them. This has truly exemplified teamwork.”

Wallace-Arnold, a student at the college’s Billings campus, graduated from high school in Lancaster, California, and then attended a community college there for seven semesters before transferring to MSU.

She said nursing initially wasn’t her first choice, but “it became the right choice.”

“After my first semester of college, I discovered that my purpose or calling was and is nursing,” she said. “My heart was looking for a career that offered opportunities, diversity, and advanced education…. Ever since then, I’ve devoted myself to the art and science of nursing. Nursing is my true passion.”

At MSU, she got involved in a number of activities and events, including serving as a student lab assistant and as a tutor. She also volunteered as a team captain for Expanding Your Horizons, a day-long outreach program at MSU that offers science and math exploration for middle school girls. In her junior year, she joined the Area Health Education Center’s scholar program, which works to develop the health workforce, address challenges and promote health.

Her academic achievements include induction into Sigma Theta Tau, an international honor society for nursing, four semesters on the President’s List and one semester on the Dean’s List.

More information about the College of Nursing is available at montana.edu/nursing/.

Wallace-Arnold said she’s using the extra time she has earned by graduating early to prepare for the nurse licensure exam and to continue working as a certified nurse aide at St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings while waiting for her temporary RN permit to be approved.

Her future goals include completing graduate school as a nurse practitioner and, eventually, becoming a nursing educator. She’s also interested in expanding nursing knowledge through research.

“The great thing about nursing is it’s a career that you could mold into just about anything,” she said.

Shannon said the college is dedicated to educating health care professionals who will provide skilled, compassionate care across the state.

“We feel a commitment to ensure that Montana has the nurses it needs to meet today’s unprecedented challenge, and tomorrow’s need for nurses, nurse leaders, nurse practitioners and nurse educators,” Shannon said.

The MSU College of Nursing educates students on its five campuses to be professional nurses capable of working in a variety of settings. It is the largest supplier of Bachelor of Science-prepared nurses in Montana. It is also Montana’s only public provider of graduate nursing education and offers a Master of Nursing degree focused on rural clinical nurse leadership and a doctor of nursing practice program that prepares students for certification as family nurse practitioners or psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners.