Montana Unemployment Claims Decrease, Some Schools Reopen

For the fourth straight day, Montana reported no new cases of COVID-19 Thursday

By Associated Press

HELENA — The number of unemployment claims filed in Montana last week decreased significantly while some small schools opened their doors to students Thursday as the state continues to relax restrictions meant to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

For the fourth straight day, Montana reported no new cases of COVID-19 Thursday from 465 tests run on Wednesday, the health department said. Montana has 456 confirmed cases, 16 deaths and six people remain hospitalized.

In southwestern Montana, tiny Willow Creek school opened to a couple dozen students to finish out the final 2 1/2 weeks of the school year. Students’ temperatures were being taken as they got on the bus and entered the school. The students’ desks will be placed 6 feet (2 meters) apart and lunchtime and class bells will be staggered to avoid having too many people in the hallways or bathrooms.

The school, southwest of Three Forks in Gallatin County, has 56 students and 18 teachers. About a quarter of the students planned to finish the school year from home, school officials said.

Schools in the eastern Montana towns of Circle and Melstone also planned to reopen on a voluntary basis Thursday, The Billings Gazette reported.

“Small town, it’s easy to think all of our kids are OK and fine and handling it. Fact of the matter is, it’s a weird situation,” said Circle superintendent Preston Wenz. “I just wanted the kids and the staff to have a chance to come in and finalize the year. … I’ve had some already tell me, ‘I don’t really need (academic) help, but I just want to come back and see my teacher. I just want to come back and see my friends.’”

Federal data shows Montana processed 4,263 new unemployment claims for the week ending May 2, bringing the total claims to just over 100,000 since the state’s stay-at-home order was issued. Last week’s claims were a 72% decrease from the previous week, but are still 459% higher than the 762 claims filed during the same week last year.

Montana’s Department of Labor and Industry anticipates rehiring to quickly occur in bars, restaurants, and other establishments that are allowed to reopen under the first phrase of Gov. Steve Bullock’s phased reopening of Montana’s economy, the agency said.

“Our department economists will be shifting their focus to continued claims by industry to determine where hiring is occurring,” DLI spokesperson Lauren Lewis said Thursday.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

In other coronavirus-related developments:

— Montana’s website that allows people, businesses and nonprofits file for federal coronavirus relief funding went live Thursday morning. Gov. Steve Bullock this week announced the availability of $123 million in funding, including $50 million for small businesses, $50 million in rent and mortgage assistance, $10 million for nonprofit social service providers and $2 million for food banks. Due to high volume, the website was experiencing intermittent slow visit and upload speeds, the covidrelief.mt.gov site said during the mid-morning.

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This story has been corrected to show last week’s unemployment claims in Montana were 459% higher than those made during the same week last year.

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