Montanans are no strangers to challenging and unprecedented times. In 2017, we tackled the most expensive fire season on record and the largest since the big burn of 1910. Through economic downturns, we have made sacrifices in order to help neighbors in need and rebuilt again. Even dating back to the Granite Mountain mine disaster over a century ago, we made sure we came out of it a stronger community.
With coronavirus now reaching our state, we again face challenging and unprecedented times. This pandemic not only gives way to extraordinary health risks, but with it a ripple effect on our economic and social well-being.
Montanans have always rallied together in times of crisis. It’s time that we do so again.
Our first priority is prevention. The small sacrifices we make now – missing out on a cancelled event, avoiding crowds, and staying home if you feel sick – means keeping more folks healthy. The person ahead of you in line at the grocery store could be among those most at risk of falling ill to the virus. Social distancing is a primary protective measure, and I urge every Montanan to take this seriously in order to protect our friends and neighbors most vulnerable to the disease.
With prevention, we can slow the spread of this virus and reduce strain on our frontline health care workers. This requires difficult decisions – ones that I do not take lightly and that I know will disrupt Montana families. But the actions we take now will ensure our state is better off in the long run.
I directed the closure of dine-in food service and alcohol beverage businesses, as well as other entities that pose enhanced risks because it imposes large gatherings of people, such as movie theaters, casinos, and health clubs. I encourage Montanans to utilize take-out and delivery service to support our fellow businesses. I also directed the closure of public K-12 schools for two weeks while communities, parents, and schools plan for the event of a longer closure, making sure we’re still providing students with a quality education through distance learning and with essential services, such as school meals. I have suspended visitation in Montana’s nursing homes, except for certain compassionate care situations. Montana has a higher percentage of older adults – those must susceptible to severe illness from COVID-19 – and this measure is imperative to keeping these older generations safe. I also supported the Montana University System in its decision to move to online classes for the remainder of the semester.
We are also monitoring the impacts of COVID-19 from a public health perspective and an economic health perspective and taking quick action to care for our fellow Montanans during these times:
• Emergency rules are now in effect to streamline unemployment benefits. Workers impacted by COVID-19, whether it’s because they’ve been laid off, are quarantined, or need to take care of a family member, can do so without worrying about how they will make ends meet.
• Montanans without health insurance, who receive a recommendation from a doctor, will be able to receive coverage for COVID-19 testing, and if they test positive, treatment.
• Access to telemedicine services have been expanded to ensure Medicaid patients receive quality health care in their homes to prevent unnecessary gatherings at health care facilities and keep our health care workers safe.
• Small businesses across Montana are now eligible for emergency loans to help them weather temporary closures and bounce back from critical quarantine efforts.
I’m inspired by the business owners and local communities who have made adjustments to their daily operating processes in interest of public health. I’m inspired by the teachers, cooks, and volunteers who are making sure kids still have a school meal to rely on. I’m inspired by the doctors and nurses who treat us, and the lab techs who spend late nights performing tests. I’m inspired by the Montanans who are checking on neighbors.
I’m inspired, but not surprised. As Montanans, we have always recognized that when we have a long and hard road ahead, we are better off taking that road together. With coronavirus in our state, we have a lot of work left to do and many more challenges to overcome. But as Montanans, I have no doubt that is what we will do.
Steve Bullock is the governor of Montana.