Gov. Steve Bullock detailed his decision Monday to close all public schools for two weeks to slow the spread of COVID-19, and said he couldn’t guarantee they would reopen once the period ends.
He also expressed concern over the supply of materials needed to test potential patients – tests needed to identify hot spots and rates of infection. The state can currently test 750 individuals, though it expects another 1,000 tests from the CDC on Wednesday, the governor said.
“I do have concerns about ensuring we’ll have enough in the near future,” Bullock said. “It’s not just the tests, it’s the adjacent supply. We’ll continue to push the federal government to supply what’s needed.”
Bullock was one of 47 governors from across the country on Monday morning to join President Donald Trump in a conference call.
Trump told the group of governors that they shouldn’t wait for the federal government to meet the current and future demand for respirators to treat those diagnosed with the virus. Trump suggested states get the equipment on their own.
“Right now we’re doing an overall assessment of what the supplies are across the state,” Bullock said. “It’s something I will count on the federal government being a partner in. We need that partnership so we have the supply necessary.”
While the number of presumably positive cases holds in Montana at six, Bullock on Sunday issued two executive orders restricting visitation to nursing homes and to close all K-12 public schools for a period of two weeks.
During Monday’s press briefing, Bullock stopped short of saying he would implement other statewide restrictions, such as closing bars and restaurants. Health officials in Missoula and Butte on Monday implemented the measure on their own.
Bullock strongly urged organizers to forgo public gatherings that involve more than 50 people. Many bars and restaurants have already shifted to take-out options only, and others are expected to follow, Bullock said.
“You’ll see some shutdowns tomorrow to take out only,” he said. “While have not put that mandate out, I know a lot of health departments in our communities are. We have to practice social distancing to keep people safe and to do everything we can to mitigate the further spread of COVID-19.”
As part of those measures, announced on Sunday, public schools across the state will remain closed through March 27. Bullock said closing the schools was a difficult decision and would impact both students and families.
Closing the schools now will give them time to arrange for essential activities, such as providing meals for students, and to prepare for a potential long-term closure.
“These decisions were not made lightly, and I know it will disrupt Montanans and their families and school districts over the coming weeks,” Bullock said “But by taking the difficult steps now in the short run, we can stop the disease more quickly, reduce the strain on our front-line healthcare providers, and prevent even more long-term challenges.”
Bullock said he couldn’t assure that schools would reopen by the end of the month. That will depend on whether early measures to slow the spread of the virus show results.
“We haven’t yet decided whether schools will need to make up instructional time,” he said. “That decision will depend in part on how effective our early measures are at reducing the impact of new COVID-19 infection in Montana.”