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Bullock says `social distancing’ vital; officials say guidelines still evolving

Two new COVID-19 cases confirmed Monday
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Posted at 4:58 PM, Mar 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-16 21:36:46-04

HELENA —

Gov. Steve Bullock said Monday he realizes that steps to limit the spread of coronavirus are creating hardships for families and businesses across the state, but that they’re vital to keep new cases to a minimum.

“I can’t underscore (enough) the seriousness of following these measures to help our neighbors, friends and families, because their safety really is in all of our hands,” he told reporters at the Capitol.

Bullock and state health officials also said that guidance may change, as the outbreak evolves – and that they couldn’t say for sure how long schools may be closed or public gatherings limited.

“A lot of this is going to come from the national level,” said state medical officer Greg Holzman. “If you’ve noticed, everything from the Centers for Disease Control are interim guidelines, meaning we’re updating them as we go along.”

Health officials reported two new cases in Montana Monday, pushing the total to in-state infections to eight. The two cases are out of 109 people whose test results were processed Monday.

Bullock ordered all Montana schools closed starting Monday, until at least March 27. He also suspended visitation at nursing homes in Montana and “strongly recommended against” holding or attending gatherings of more than 50 people.

The governor said Monday he has so far refrained from ordering bars and restaurants to close their doors to on-site customers, but noted that several local public health departments in major cities are taking that step.

Later Monday, he praised those agencies for limiting gatherings at those establishments.

“These efforts are consistent with the public health guidance I issued (Sunday),” he said in a statement. “This outbreak is serious, but we still have a chance to get ahead of it and flatten the curve in Montana.”

So far, 313 Montanans have been tested for the virus. Bullock said the initial six people found to have the virus in Montana are being treated at home.

He said Montana still has 750 test kits remaining and is expecting to get another 1,000 test from the federal CDC on Wednesday.

Health officials also said the state is examining facilities around the state where it could quarantine people with the disease, if necessary.

The governor said he can “give no assurance” that schools would re-open in two weeks, but that the more steps people take to keep the spread of the disease in check now, the sooner actions can be taken to re-open things and ease restrictions.

“I know that the impact to families are significant,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can both to recognize the challenges out there and the best way to mitigate the further spread of this (disease) and to protect people.”

“What we’re doing now is what we’re hoping will make a huge difference in the future, to decrease the number of cases and decrease the stress on our hospitals and our health-care providers,” added Holzman.

The governor also recommended that people 60 or older should not take part in gatherings of more than 20 people, and that parents should avoid placing children in the care of grandparents or family members older than 60.