Gov. Steve Bullock on Thursday issued a mandatory stay-at-home order for all residents of Montana while temporarily closing non-essential businesses, marking his most dramatic action to date in the ongoing effort slow the coronavirus pandemic in the state.
The executive order is set to take effect Saturday, March 28 at 12:01 a.m., and is to last through April 10, unless rescinded or modified through further executive order. Bullock said he issued the order to buy time for health care workers on the frontlines of the fight against coronavirus and to limit long-term impacts to the state’s economy.
“In consultation with public health experts, health care providers, and emergency management professionals, I have determined that to protect public health and human safety, it is essential, to the maximum extent possible, individuals stay at home or at their place of residence,” Bullock said. “There’s no doubt that COVID-19 is causing a lot of hardship. It’s also causing incredible hardships for our frontline doctors, nurses and other hospital staff across the country.”
The order comes as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Montana rose to 90 on Thursday afternoon, an uptick of more than 26 percent over last night’s figure, with 15 counties affected, including the Flathead, where six cases have been confirmed. Bullock said the state was testing between 300-400 Montanans daily, and on Thursday conducted 476 tests, not including those sent by individuals to private labs. The state has conducted a total of 2,699 tests, Bullock said.
Under the executive public health order, residents must remain at home, and only leave their home to engage in activities or perform tasks critical to their health and safety, or to the health and safety of their family or household members or to go to or return from “critical work.”
“I would rather be accused of overreacting now than have our health care system overwhelmed later,” Bullock, who was flanked by Adjutant General Matthew Quinn and Department of Public Health and Human Services Director Sheila Hogan, said during a press conference live streamed from Helena.
The directive also prohibits all public and private gatherings of any number of people occurring outside a household or place of residence.
Bullock explained that the stay-at-home directive is essentially the same as a shelter-in-place order, and mostly aligns with what state health officials have been telling Montana residents since the state’s first confirmed case. Indeed, as the state’s residents adjust to life in the age of pandemic — school closures, restrictions on bar and restaurant operations, social distancing, and self-isolation — not much actually changes under the directive.
For example, restaurants offering carryout, pick-up and deliver services may continue to do so, even though their dining areas must remain closed.
While the order is legally enforceable, Bullock said it remains his hope that Montanans will educate one another and demonstrate individual responsibility.
“Thirteen days ago I announced the first four positive COVID-19 cases in the state of Montana,” Bullock said. “Today that number is at 90. In so many ways our state and our nation is a heckuva lot different than it was 13 days ago. There are concepts that we are rapidly introducing during the pandemic that were certainly foreign just two weeks ago.”
“I have recognized through all of this that Montanans have always had an independent spirit. Yet we have never shied away from looking out for our neighbors,” he continued. “Montanans have always pulled together in times of challenge and times of crisis, this is what keeps me and others inspired and optimistic that we will actually come out stronger. But with 90 cases reaching counties from Lincoln in Northwest Montana to Roosevelt in Northeast Montana, we have to do more to curtail the spread of this virus.”
Essential services and businesses will remain operational and open. Businesses deemed essential are required to comply with social distancing guidelines when possible including maintaining six feet of distance, having sanitizing products available, and designating hours of operation specifically for vulnerable populations.
Under the directive, Montanans may leave their homes for essential activities, including:
For health and safety. To engage in activities or perform tasks essential to their health and safety, or to the health and safety of their family or household members (including, but not limited to, pets), such as, by way of example only and without limitation, seeking emergency services, obtaining medical supplies or medication, or visiting a health care professional.
For necessary supplies and services. To obtain necessary services or supplies for themselves and their family or household members, or to deliver those services or supplies to others, such as, by way of example only and without limitation, groceries and food, household consumer products, supplies they need to work from home, and products necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences
For outdoor activity. To engage in outdoor activity, provided the individuals comply with social distancing, as defined below, such as, by way of example and without limitation, walking, hiking, running, or biking. Individuals may go to public parks and open outdoor recreation areas, including public lands in Montana provided they remain open to recreation. Montanans are discouraged from outdoor recreation activities that pose enhanced risks of injury or could otherwise stress the ability of local first responders to address the COVID-19 emergency (e.g., backcountry skiing in a manner inconsistent with avalanche recommendations or in closed terrain).
For certain types of work. To perform work providing essential products and services at Essential Businesses or Operations or to otherwise carry out activities specifically permitted in this Directive, including Minimum Basic Operations.
To take care of others. To care for a family member, friend, or pet in another household, and to transport family members, friends, or pets as allowed by this Directive.
The attached Directive follows federal guidance to determine the businesses and operations deemed essential, which are summarized in the Directive and can also be found here: https://www.cisa.gov/publication/guidance-essential-critical-infrastructure-workforce.
Businesses with questions can contact a dedicated state line at 1-800-755-6672 and leave messages 24-hours a day and will receive a prompt response.