Montana Cities Shut Down Bars, Restaurants to Slow Virus

Health officials for counties that include Billings, Missoula, Bozeman, Butte and Helena implemented restrictions Monday afternoon and Tuesday

By Tristan Scott

HELENA — Montana’s cities on Monday began shutting down bars and restaurants, the latest major disruption of day-to-day life in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Health officials for counties that include the cities of Billings, Missoula, Bozeman, Butte and Helena announced restrictions to be implemented Monday afternoon and Tuesday.

“We know these actions will create significant and lasting economic impact and disruption, and we do not take them lightly,” said Gallatin City-County Health Officer Matt Kelley. “But in light of the current situation, we feel it is a necessary step.”

The closures are initially scheduled to last a week and most will allow only takeout and delivery services from restaurants.

The announcements come the day before St. Patrick’s Day, when thousands of people typically fill the streets of Butte and parades are held across the state.

“I know that this is a big ask with Saint Paddy’s day tomorrow, but this is not a typical time,” Missoula County Health Officer Ellen Leahy said.

Gov. Steve Bullock said there are no immediate plans to order a statewide closure of bars and restaurants, instead leaving the decision to local health officials.

On Sunday, Bullock ordered schools closed for at least two weeks, affecting about 150,000 students, and suspended most visitation to nursing homes.

Montana has six presumptive positive tests for COVID-19 out of 204 tests given, according to the state health department’s website Monday morning. Testing is now going on seven days a week. Montana reported its first case on Friday.

In other coronavirus-related developments:

— The Montana High School Association on Monday suspended all spring extracurricular activities until further notice, including contests, meets and festivals.

— The 110 people who attended the state Board of Regents meeting in Dillon on March 5 are being asked to self-quarantine for 14 days after Commissioner of Higher Education Clay Christian and another person who attended the meeting were diagnosed with COVID-19. Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, who has tested negative for the virus and has no symptoms, will remain in self-quarantine until March 20.

— Visitation at Montana Department of Corrections facilities has been suspended until further notice.

— Ski areas around the state are closing, or suspending operations. Whitefish Mountain and Bridger Bowl ended their seasons early while Big Sky Resort and Red Lodge Mountain announced week-long suspensions starting Sunday.

— Montana tribes are having employees work from home. The Crow and Chippewa Cree tribes are asking residents to self-quarantine if they traveled off the reservation recently, including for basketball tournaments. The Crow Tribe and Northern Cheyenne Tribe enacted 10 p.m. curfews.

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