Montana Gov. Steve Bullock on Friday ordered the closure of businesses in the state where people congregate, such as bars, coffee shops, gyms, theaters and more, in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the state.
Restaurants can remain open, but are only allowed to offer takeout or delivery options. Bullock’s executive order follows similar steps taken by most of the state’s largest counties, as well as smaller ones, though there were notable holdouts like Cascade County.
“Both young and older Montanans, in urban and rural communities, have tested positive for coronavirus, making it even more clear that this virus impacts us all and that these actions are imperative to protecting our friends and neighbors,” Bullock said in a press release. “We face extraordinary health risks — and with it even further risks to our economic and social well-being — if we do not act now. I do not take this decision lightly and it was done so in consultation with public health professionals. Montanans, too, need to take this seriously. It’s up to all of us to stop the spread of this virus.”
The weeklong order takes effect at 8 p.m. Friday and expires March 27 at 11:59 p.m., though a press release from the governor’s office notes “the date will likely be extended.”
The first four known COVID-19 cases in Montana were announced a week ago, March 13. New tests have come back positive from the state laboratory in Helena nearly every day since then, and reached 16 within the state’s borders by Friday morning.
Under the directive, the places that must close are:
- Restaurants, food courts, cafes, coffeehouses and other similar establishments offering food or beverage for on-premises consumption.
- Alcoholic beverage service businesses, including bars, taverns, brew pubs, breweries, microbreweries, distilleries, wineries, tasting rooms, special licensees, clubs, and other establishments offering alcoholic beverages for on-premises 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.
Bullock encouraged places that could offer take-out or delivery to do so. He has the ability to order businesses shut under an emergency declaration he made March 12.
On Sunday, Bullock closed K-12 schools for at least two weeks and the following day strongly urged businesses to shutter in accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though he stopped short of ordering it then.
Public health officials over the week have coalesced around the idea that Montana had an advantage of sorts, if residents seized on it, because the coronavirus arrived in the state later than much of the rest of the country and is not yet widespread.
“I believe that here in Montana we have been given a huge gift, the gift that is time,” said Michael Bush, the chief medical officer at St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings, earlier in the week.
Bullock has also been calling on Montanans to take action to “flatten the curve.” That phrase has become a familiar refrain to many in the last week and is a reference to charts showing scenarios for the virus’ spread, from a massive spike if guidelines aren’t heeded to a gentler curve if people follow social distancing guidelines, work from home when possible and avoid discretionary travel and gatherings with more than 10 people.
In some places county health office orders forced citizens to comply and other people have voluntary taken steps, but until Bullock’s order Friday the state was left with a patchwork of measures that meant bars could be full in one county but shuttered just across the county line.
Governors in at least two neighboring states have taken measures similar to Bullock.
On Thursday, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon issued an order closing places where people gather like theaters, bars, nightclubs, coffee shops and things like buffets and salad bars, as well as gyms and museums. The Casper Star-Tribune reported Gordon’s order allows restaurants to operate take-out or delivery options, but not dine-in. Day cares are closed, except those that service “essential personnel.” That state has 18 confirmed cases.
In South Dakota, which has 14 confirmed cases, Gov. Kristi Noem has not taken any measures beyond closing schools, the Argus Leader reported.