Bullock orders K-12 schools to close immediately, recommends limiting public gatherings

by Whitefish Pilot
| March 15, 2020 5:45 PM

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock announced Sunday that all public K-12 schools would close beginning March 16 though March 27.

He also set out directives and guidance aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus

“As governor, it is my top priority to protect the health and safety of Montanans, particularly our most vulnerable, at a time when we face the potential for extraordinary health risks from coronavirus in our state,” Bullock said in a release. “Social distancing is one of the most important primary protective measures to flatten the curve of this virus. I cannot underscore the seriousness of following these measures to help our neighbors, friends, and families.”

In an email to parents, the Whitefish School District on Sunday announced that it would close schools based upon the governor’s directive.

Only administrators and custodians will be required to report to work, but school buildings will remain open for all staff needs.

“We will continue to work with Governor Bullock and state health officials during this period,” the message said.

The district plans to communicate with families and staff with additional information for the week by 6 p.m. on Monday, March 16.

“This situation has created challenges for us all,” the district said. “We are working hard to provide educational and other support services during this disruption and we appreciate your partnership as our community works together during this crisis.”

Bullock directed Montana’s public K-12 schools to close and said schools would engage in planning to provide arrangements to provide free meals to students who need them, pursuant to a waiver obtained from the United States Department of Agriculture, and to provide for all other matters and services that students need in the event of future or ongoing closure. Schools will continue to receive all state funding during this two-week closure.

The state will work with schools during this period to evaluate and consider next steps as needed. The decision to close schools is to slow the spread and is not in response to an outbreak in schools.

“I recognize that our schools often serve as a lifeline for families and that this decision is going to have disruption on Montanans over the coming weeks. I’m committed to working with schools, communities and public health to minimize the impact. I encourage businesses to do everything they can to support families as well,” said Governor Bullock.

To mitigate the impact of school closures on families, Bullock all encouraged all employers to be generous with their employee sick and paid leave policies during this time.

Bullock also strongly recommending that the public limits all gatherings, especially those more than 50 people, in every community across the state.

In addition, Bullock is recommending that individuals over the age of 60 or who are immunocompromised or with chronic health conditions do not participate in gatherings of more than 20 people. He also recommends that parents should avoid, if possible, placing children for childcare with grandparents or individuals over the age of 60 or immunocompromised persons.

Visitation in Montana’s nursing homes is suspended except for certain compassionate care situations. People who meet the exception for visitation will undergo a screening to determine whether they have traveled in the last two weeks, are residing where community spread is occurring, or if they have symptoms consistent with COVID-19.

In addition to taking part in regular briefing calls with the country’s governors and the White House, Bullock has consulted with doctors and other public health authorities and school leaders to develop efforts to prevent spread of coronavirus in Montana.

Six people have tested presumptive positive for the virus in Montana. There are two cases in Missoula county, and one each in Gallatin, Yellowstone, Silver Bow and Broadwater counties.

The Flathead City-County Health Department has established an informational hotline to provide updates at 406-751-8188 and a website at https://flatheadhealth.org/novel-coronavirus-covid-19/. Questions can also be emailed to covid19info@mt.gov.