Montana Declares State of Emergency in Anticipation of the Virus
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Gov. Steve Bullock declared a state of emergency Thursday in anticipation of the coronavirus spreading to Montana, one of only a handful of states where there are no cases.
The executive order allows the governor to access $16 million in state emergency funds and take other measures to respond once the pandemic reaches the state.
“The emergency order puts our state on the highest alert — recognizing, though, that now still is the time to continue to plan, not panic,” Bullock said in a news conference announcing the order.
Meanwhile, Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian said Thursday the Montana University System is moving from in-class instruction to online instruction in every class where it’s possible because of coronavirus concerns.
The campuses — including residence halls and computer labs — will remain open for students and employees will continue to report to work. The change takes effect on March 23, as students return from spring break.
The campuses will implement appropriate social distancing measures in line with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which would include restrictions on large lectures, theater performances, academic conferences and other large gatherings, Christian said.
“I do not take these decisions lightly,” Christian said in a statement. “I am committed to supporting the educational progress of our students and minimizing disruption to campus life whenever possible.”
The changes affect about 35,000 students. Montana does not have any reported in-state coronavirus infections. More than 100 colleges nationwide are moving to online classes over the coronavirus concerns.
Bullock said 55 people have been tested in the state, including 21 on Thursday, and all tests have returned negative for the virus.
A Montana resident in her 70s is hospitalized in Maryland after testing positive, but officials said she has not been in the state since November.
The state launched an informational website, along with a telephone hotline, 1-888-333-0461, and an email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, for anybody with questions or concerns.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
Coronavirus concerns led to other moves that affect Montana college students including the cancellation of student trips abroad, cancellation of the remainder of the Big Sky Conference men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in Boise, Idaho. Also, the cancellation of all NAIA winter sports championships, including the NAIA women’s basketball championship that was scheduled to be held March 18-24 in Billings.
The Montana Department of Commerce on Thursday said the popular Made in Montana Tradeshow being held in Helena this weekend will only be open to wholesale buyers. The event connects Montana artists, craftspeople and other businesses with wholesale buyers.