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Governor issues stay-at-home order in Montana due to coronavirus

Phil Drake
Great Falls Tribune
Published 8:46 PM EDT Mar 26, 2020

HELENA – Gov. Steve Bullock intensified efforts Thursday against the spread of the coronavirus in Montana, issuing a “stay-at-home” order keeping residents indoors with limited travel allowed for essential trips such as picking up groceries or seeking medical care.

The order goes into effect 12:01 a.m. Saturday and goes through April 10.

Where are coronavirus cases in Montana?: See a map of COVID-19 in the state

It also temporarily closes all nonessential businesses and operations to curtail the spread of COVID-19. Essential businesses and operations as defined in the directive.

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Such orders, also known as a shelter-in-place order, are given during a disaster and people are told to stay there until they are given the “all clear.” Such orders call for people to isolate at home unless they are health care workers, public safety employees or other “essential workers” such as grocery store employees.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, shown in a 2019 photo, warned Friday that the state could face extended closures of public gathering places in the push to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Patrick Semansky, AP

Bullock noted during the news conference how different the state and nation are now, than they were 13 days ago when Montana announced its first cases of the coronavirus. There were 90 reported in 16 of the state’s 56 counties as of Thursday afternoon.

He said Montanans have always pulled together in times of challenge and times of crisis.

“We have to do more to curtail the spread of this virus,” Bullock said. “In other states hospitals are overwhelmed and health care workers are getting sick themselves, I don’t want that to become Montana.”

He said he would rather be accused of overreacting than to have hospitals inundated.

“I am taking these measures today because we need to stay in front of this pandemic and slow the growth of infections so that our health care system is not overwhelmed,” he said.

Bullock said it is a public health order and it can be enforced by the county attorney, the attorney general and by the Department of Public Health and Human Services.

The governor said he hoped it would all be self-enforced.

“It shouldn’t take a sheriff to say ‘Let’s use some common sense here,’” he said.

Earlier in the day the Montana Hospital Association requested the governor issue a stay-in-place order and said they have canceled elective procedures.

Rich Rasmussen, president and CEO of Montana Hospital Association, said hospitals are experiencing immense pressure to protect our communities along with the significant and perhaps irreversible financial harm to hospitals and health care providers across the state.”

“A ‘shelter-in-place’ declaration has the potential to quarantine the virus and permit public health to test and track those infected and shorten its lifespan in Montana,” he said. “This effort will also blunt the economic hit to our state.”

Essential businesses that can remain open include stores that sell groceries and medicine, food and beverage production, organizations that provide charitable and social services, media, gas stations, financial and real estate services, hardware and supply stores, mail and shipping, laundry services and restaurants for consumption off premise.

Others are transportation such as airlines and taxis, home-based care, residential facilities, shelters, professional services, labor unions, hotels and funeral services.

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Montana not the only state to ‘shelter in place’

Montana joins a growing list of states under such a mandate, also known as a “shelter in place” order. 

Those states, according to, are Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky and Louisiana.

Other states are Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, Washington. West Virginia and Wisconsin. 

Montana reported 90 confirmed cases of COVD-19 as of Thursday afternoon, with 38 of those cases in Gallatin County alone. Glacier, Toole and Meagher counties reported their first cases. Cascade County has five cases.

Bullock announced a coronavirus task force on March 3, saying the state is ready to deal with the problem and warning that cases would eventually end up in Montana.

It is being led by Adjutant Gen. Matthew Quinn, who oversees the Department of Military Affairs, including the Disaster and Emergency Services (DES) division which handles multi-agency coordination and hazard response planning. It is operating out of Fort Harrison near Helena.

The governor declared a state of emergency March 12, which he said allows him to mobilize state resources. On Monday he issued an executive order aimed at quickly increasing hospital space and medical supplies to “rapidly respond to a potential surge in COVID-19 cases.”

On March 15, Bullock originally closed public schools until March 27, which he said would give schools time to plan for all the services students need such as meals. And he restricted visits to nursing homes to protect a vulnerable population. That order was extended earlier this week until April 10.

The city of Great Falls declared a state of emergency March 19 and the City-County Health Department banned in-dining at bars and restaurants, although takeout, drive-through and delivery still are allowed at area businesses. Bullock issued a statewide order March 20.

The vast majority of people recover from the respiratory illness. There is no vaccine.

People should stay home when sick, stay away from others who are ill, cover coughs and sneezes with tissue or elbow, wash hands often with soap and water or using hand sanitizer and disinfect surfaces often. The state has launched a phone line at 1-888-333-0461 and Montanans can also email questions to

Reporter Phil Drake is our eye on the state capitol. For tips, suggestions or comment, he can be reached at 406-231-9021 or 

This content was originally published here.