Bullock extends closures to April 10

by Colin Gaiser
Daily Inter Lake | March 25, 2020 6:46 AM

Gov. Steve Bullock on Tuesday announced he is extending the closures of schools, bars and restaurants until at least April 10.

To contain the COVID-19 virus in Montana, Bullock also announced a directive prohibiting gatherings of 10 or more people outside the home unless proper social distancing – at least 6 feet between individuals – can be maintained.

In a separate announcement from Superintendent of Montana Catholic Schools Tim Uhl, all Catholic schools in Montana, which includes St. Matthew’s Catholic School in Kalispell, will remain closed, with ongoing remote learning instruction, until at least May 4.

During a press conference Tuesday, the governor stopped short of saying he would institute a shelter-in-place order.

“I’ve taken necessary and aggressive action,” he said. “Let’s all of us Montanans make sure to do our part.”

When asked about where businesses such as barbershops and salons fell in the directive, Bullock said he is “asking businesses that are still open to practice the procedures of social distancing.” He added he and his staff had not defined which businesses would be an “essential service” in the case of additional directives.

Bullock also said the state is acquiring 50,000 more masks and 4,000 additional swabs in a deal with North Dakota.

Montana had 51 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday afternoon, with four of those in Flathead County.

In other coronavirus-related developments:

• Bullock announced measures to help the state plan for a potential surge of critically ill patients due to the coronavirus, including temporarily waiving laws regarding the procurement, leasing and disposal of state property in an effort to obtain and distribute emergency supplies or services, contract for additional patient care space or distribute existing supplies. Republican lawmakers noted there are 3,000 hospital beds statewide, and health care facilities could be overwhelmed if just 1% of Montana residents tested positive for coronavirus.

• The Montana University System is offering refunds of dorm costs and meal plans to students who are no longer on campus while taking online classes. Each Montana State University student who has already fully paid for their room and board could qualify for a refund of between $1,600 and $2,000, MSU spokesman Tracy Ellig told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. The refunds for about 3,650 MSU students who live in dorms could total $7 million. The University of Montana expects about 1,000 students to leave their dorm rooms for the rest of the semester.

• The Montana National Guard instituted a closed-base policy to protect employees, said Maj. Gen. Matt Quinn. Only actively serving individuals with an access card or people with a state employee identification card will be allowed to access Montana National Guard installations and facilities until the policy is rescinded.

• President Donald Trump has postponed the Oct. 1 deadline for obtaining a REAL ID, the Montana Department of Justice said. The new deadline has not been set.