In an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus, Gov. Steve Bullock on Tuesday extended the statewide closure of schools, bars, restaurants and other businesses in Montana until April 10.
The move came one day after Montana saw its total number of COVID-19 cases jump more than 25 percent, with the state reporting 51 confirmed cases as of March 24.
“While I wish it was otherwise, I certainly expect those numbers to be increasing,” Bullock said.
As of March 24, the state had completed 2,001 COVID-19 tests.
The governor also announced he was prohibiting any non-essential social and recreational gatherings of 10 or more people outside of a home or place of residence unless a distance of at least six feet can be maintained. Previously, the state had “discouraged” such gatherings.
“This is more restrictive and we are asking Montanans to comply,” Bullock said.
Retail businesses are also required to establish, implement, and enforce social distancing policies to ensure a minimum of six feet between customers, effective March 28, Bullock said. This requirement does not apply to grocery, health care, medical, or pharmacy services, although they are also encouraged to comply with social distancing protocols if possible.
“This is a dynamic and quickly changing situation,” Bullock said. “The actions we take today will help slow the spread of COVID-19.”
Last week, Bullock issued a directive ordering schools and establishments with public gathering spaces like bar, restaurants, fitness centers, and theaters to close until March 27. Under Tuesday’s directive, those closures have been extended an additional two weeks, and may be extended or shortened depending on circumstances.
Under the state directive, the following are closed to the public: restaurants, food courts, cafes, coffeehouses, and other similar establishments offering food or beverage for on-premise consumption; alcoholic beverage service businesses, including bars, taverns, brewpubs, breweries, microbreweries, distilleries, wineries, tasting rooms, special licensees, clubs, and other establishments offering alcoholic beverages for on-premise consumption; cigar bars; health clubs, health spas, gyms, aquatic centers, pools and hot springs, indoor facilities at ski areas, climbing gyms, fitness studios, and indoor recreational facilities; movie and performance theaters, nightclubs, concert halls, bowling alleys, bingo halls, and music halls; and casinos.
Food and beverage providers are encouraged to continue to offer drive-through, delivery or take-out services.
Listen to Gov. Bullock announce the extended closures on March 24:
Besides announcing that he was prohibiting groups larger than 10, he also encouraged people to stay home as much as possible in the coming days. During a teleconference with the media, Bullock was asked if he was prepared to give a shelter-in-place order like other states have issued, including nearby Washington. Bullock said he was hopeful the steps taken so far would slow the spread of the virus but that he was prepared to go further.
“If other measurements are needed, we’ll consider them,” he said.
As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 46 positive COVID-19 cases in the state of Montana, including four in Flathead County.
Bullock said that the state was securing additional supplies for the state lab and medical facilities around the state, including a shipment of 50,000 face masks from North Dakota that will be distributed around the state. The state has also received an additional 4,000 test swabs.
Earlier on Tuesday, President Donald Trump said he was hopeful American life would return to normalcy in the coming weeks and that most closures could be lifted around Easter, bucking the advice of health officials. Bullock said he was confident that most state governments were taking the issue seriously, regardless of what the president said.
“I’m concerned that the president is viewing this as a political challenge,” he said. “But I think every governor across the country is viewing this as a public health and economic challenge.”