Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has been busy. More than two weeks after Maryland’s governor announced a Montana woman in her 70s tested presumptive positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19), Bullock and his staff have worked around the clock to address public concerns.
Over a period of two weeks, the Democratic governor has:
• Issued a state of emergency declaration for Montana
• Closed all public K–12 schools statewide for at least two weeks
• Confirmed several cases of Montanans who tested positive for the coronavirus
• Held several press conferences and answered dozens of questions from media representatives
• Streamlined the state’s unemployment benefits filing process for people laid off because of COVID-19
• Issued emergency loans to assist small businesses impacted directly by the coronavirus
• Stepped up communications with counties and local municipal officials to provide up-to-date information about statewide policies
• Activated several Montana Army National Guard soldiers to assist with transporting quarantined state residents at Dobbins Air Force Base in Georgia
• Implemented a series of “social distancing” measures statewide to lessen contact between individuals with symptoms of COVID-19 and prevent the spread of coronavirus
• Committed to provide uninsured Montana residents COVID-19 testing and treatment
• Expanded access to telemedicine services for homebound Montana residents to help reduce visits to local hospitals and medical facilities throughout the state
Time will tell whether the measures Bullock and his staff have taken to contain the spread of the coronavirus across the state will work. One thing is clear, however; the governor and his staff are taking COVID-19 and the potential pandemic seriously.
Serious Press Conference
During a press conference a few days after he declared a state of emergency in Montana, Bullock emphasized two key points throughout the hour-long session:
1. The COVID-19 crises is a “fluid” situation that can change hourly.
2. Gov. Bullock and his staff are focused on “flattening the curve” to keep the coronavirus from spreading throughout the state.
“My top priority is to protect Montana,” the 53-year-old governor announced at the beginning of the initial COVID-19 press conference, held via phone-in access.
After confirming several cases of Montana residents who tested “presumptive positive” for the coronavirus, Bullock said the primary strategy is to lesson the impact of COVID-19 by reducing the speed at which it spreads.
“The goal right now is to keep as many people healthy as possible,” he said.
One objective is to reduce the strain on healthcare providers called on to treat sick people who may have the virus. The reason he closed down public schools, the governor said, is to reduce contact among healthy individuals who might be exposed to people who have COVID-19.
He called closing all K–12 public schools a “necessary” step, while acknowledging it might be viewed as an unpopular decision by cynics.
“Our schools really do serve as a lifeline to so many families across our state,” said Bullock. “During the two-week closure, I’ve directed the schools to continue to receive their funding” through the state legislature.
The governor praised businesses for taking immediate, responsible actions out of the starting gate.
“Businesses have stepped up to be role models for their communities,” Bullock stated, pointing out nursing homes with “particularly vulnerable populations” play a crucial role during this crisis because Montana has a “disproportionate number of elder people.”
Older citizens of Montana, the governor said, are “vulnerable” and “medically frail.”
The elderly should be given special consideration throughout the COVID-19 crisis, Bullock told the media.
In Sidney, Reynolds Market appears to have taken the governor’s recommendations to heart. The supermarket announced it will give older citizens of Richland County opportunities to shop during the store’s regular morning hours.
In an open letter in the Sidney Herald this week, a Reynolds Market spokesperson asked younger customers to delay their grocery shopping until the afternoon, if possible, so elderly customers will have opportunities to shop for groceries in a relatively stress-free environment.
During the press conference, Gov. Bullock stressed the importance of “social distancing,” a term that’s become synonymous with COVID-19.
“Finally, and critically,” the governor said, “something we all must do is practice social distancing.”
One way to accomplish social distancing is to limit the number of people Montanans have contact with on a daily basis.
The governor’s directive has prompted non-profit organizations, government agencies and some businesses to cancel or postpone meetings and events scheduled for the coming weeks.
“I strongly recommend against planning, holding or attending large gatherings of 50 or more people,” Bullock told the media. “It’s absolutely essential to protect our friends and neighbors who are most vulnerable.”
The governor reemphasized being considerate of anyone over the age of 60.
“Their safety really is in all our hands,” Bullock said. “Sacrifices are going to have to be made, but I think the time to take action is now, before the situation gets worse.”
Judging from the actions he’s taken to assist small businesses, protect school children and make in-home healthcare services available to shut-ins, Bullock has made good on his promises to the media after addressing the COVID-19 crisis during his initial press conference.
Some Tough Questions
One reporter asked the governor if he anticipates mandating the closure of all day-care centers in Montana.
Bullock responded: “It was a significant first step to close our schools.”
A second reporter asked how long public K–12 schools will remain closed throughout the state.
“I cannot give an assurance that we will open them in two weeks,” he replied.
Another reporter asked whether the governor will limit his actions to public institutions like schools, or if he intends to impose closure mandates on private businesses like restaurants and bars.
Gov. Bullock offered a measured response. For the time being, Bullock said he will leave it up to business owners to decide whether to close their doors to the public. However, he added that local health-department officials have the discretion to close businesses if they deem it necessary to protect the public.
“It’s a very dynamic situation,” Bullock said of the COVID-19 crisis.
“The economic impact is significant to Montana,” he concluded, noting the threat of COVID-19 is very real. “I think we have to do everything we can to flatten the curve on this.”