In two executive orders issued Sunday evening, Gov. Steve Bullock directed all public schools to close for two weeks starting Monday while restricting visitation to nursing homes, both an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus.
The governor also asked event organizers to consider limiting public gatherings to 50 people or less. The measures are the strongest taken so far by the state to protect the spread of COVID-19 and keep it from reaching the state’s most vulnerable populations.
“As governor, it is my top priority to protect the health and safety of Montanans, particularly our most vulnerable, at a time when we face the potential for extraordinary health risks from coronavirus in our state,” said Bullock. “Social distancing is one of the most important primary protective measures to flatten the curve of this virus. I cannot underscore the seriousness of following these measures to help our neighbors, friends, and families.”
Sunday also saw the Missoula City-County Health Department ramp up its call for registered nurses in preparation for what’s expected to be an increase in cases. Six patients have tested positive for the virus in Montana so far, though with rapid testing coming this week, more cases will likely surface.
As part of the latest measures, Bullock directed Montana’s public K-12 schools to close starting Monday, March 16, and remain closed until March 27.
During this time, he said, schools will plan to provide free meals to students who need them, and to ensure schools can prepare for future or ongoing closure. Schools will continue to receive all state funding during the two-week closure.
Missoula County Public Schools had intended to remain open unless otherwise instructed.
“I recognize that our schools often serve as a lifeline for families and that this decision is going to have disruption on Montanans over the coming weeks,” Bullock said. “I’m committed to working with schools, communities and public health to minimize the impact. I encourage businesses to do everything they can to support families as well.”
Bullock urged the public to follow CDC guidelines on social distancing. While not a directive, he suggested gatherings be limited to 50 people or less and that those over 60 with underlying health issues avoid such gatherings alltogether.
Such efforts are intended to keep the virus from entering the state’s most vulnerable population. On that front, he suspended visitation to nursing homes except for compassionate care.
“In addition to taking part in regular briefing calls with the country’s governors and the White House, Governor Bullock has consulted with doctors and other public health authorities and school leaders to develop efforts to prevent spread of COVID-19 in Montana,” the governor’s press secretary said.