Montana’s unemployment rate remained unchanged at 3.5% in February, adding around 800 jobs over the prior month, though the COVID-19 pandemic will change that significantly, Gov. Bullock said Friday.

February's figures represent something of a pre-pandemic snapshot of the state's economy, one that has suffered a setback in recent weeks as thousands of Montanans file for unemployment and businesses remain closed under state and local health orders.

“These numbers reflect prior to COVID-19 reaching Montana, and we know much has changed in the last month,” Bullock. “Our long-term growth is best helped by guaranteeing the health and safety of our workers and their families during this crisis.”

Bullock this week extended school and business closures through April 10. On Thursday, the governor also ordered a stay-at-home directive, asking Montanans to help slow the spread of the virus and ensure hospitals and intensive care units aren't overrun with patients.

Montana received more than 14,000 applications for unemployment benefits in the week ending March 21. That marks a nearly 1,700% increase over the previous week and a 1,917% increase over the same week a year ago.

Bullock said the impacts will be evident in next month’s employment data, though public health and safety remains the state's first order of business as the number of COVID-19 cases grows.

“To rebuild our economic strength, we must do everything we can to curtail the spread of COVID-19 in Montana,” Bullock said.