Montana Gov. Steve Bullock this week issued a directive to extend closures of public schools K–12 throughout the state until at least April 10. The directive includes dine-in food service and alcohol-beverage businesses, also mandated to remain closed through April 10.

The governor announced during a press conference Tuesday, March 24, the decision to extend the closures, originally set to expire at the end of March 2020.

In Richland County and throughout downtown Sidney, it was no longer business as usual. Local bars, casinos, restaurants and many other businesses were closed to the public.

Gov. Bullock reiterated the importance of social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19.

See “Staying healthy means staying home” page A12 for an explanation about social distancing.

“Yesterday, we saw a 25 percent increase of our COVID-positive population,” Gov. Bullock stated. “While I wish it were otherwise, I certainly expect those numbers to further testing is done.”

The number of confirmed positive cases in Montana has more than tripled in the past week. Reported cases, tested positive by the state’s Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS), reached 65 on March 25.

New COVID-19 cases were reported in Gallatin County overnight, with one each in Yellowstone, Jefferson, Madison and Silver Bow counties.

At least a dozen counties in Montana report confirmed positive cases of the coronavirus. As of March 24, Gallatin County led the state in COVID-19 cases testing positive with 24, followed by Yellowstone, Missoula and Flathead counties.

“That is reason for real concern,” Bullock stated in a press release issued early Wednesday, March 25. “It is the actions we are taking today — and actions businesses, individuals and each of us take today...that will lessen the spread in Montana.”

School Instructions

In addition to extending the closure of public schools until April 10, the governor instructed school administrators to prepare for future closures.

Bullock’s office advised public school officials throughout the state to “create plans, in the event of future closures.”

Those plans are expected to incorporate:

1. Education through remote learning (where possible)

2. School meal services (where possible)

3. Services for students with disabilities

4. Other services customarily provided to children in school

Bullock implored parents and students to reach out to their superintendent with questions about specific plans for their districts.

Addressing social distancing, the governor announced:

“Effective immediately, non-essential social and recreational gatherings of individuals outside of a home or place of residence greater than ten people are prohibited, if a distance of at least six feet between individuals cannot be maintained.”

Frontline Businesses

Although retail businesses are expected to abide by the six-feet distance rule, grocery stores, healthcare facilities, medical and pharmacy services are currently exempt from the policy. However, all businesses “are encouraged to practice social distancing protocols.”

Anticipating increases in visits to hospitals, medical centers and other healthcare facilities throughout the state, Gov. Bullock issued a separate directive to temporarily waive the bidding process to “quickly procure or distribute emergency supplies or contract for additional space to care for patients.”

“Montanans have an obligation to slow the spread of this virus,” the governor stated. “For every person who stays at home and avoids non-essential gatherings, the better our chances to fight the virus and protect our front line health care workers and emergency responders.”

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