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Gov. Steve Bullock Directs Closure Of All Public K-12 Schools; MSU-Northern Chancellor In Self-Quarantine

Gov. Steve Bullock directed today that all Montana public K-12 schools close for two weeks starting Monday as part of an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, which hit the state Friday.

Chancellor Greg Kegel of Montana State University-Northern has quarantined himself after Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian announced Saturday he had tested presumptively positive for the coronavirus. Kegel was at the Board of Regents March 5 meeting in Dillon with Christian.

Cases are presumptive until confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control. There are no confirmed cases in Havre.

“Chancellor Greg Kegel was near (within arm’s length) of the commissioner … and has self-quarantined himself in his home until March 20,” Jim Potter, the university’s director of relations told The Havre Herald in an email.

No one affiliated with Northern who was at that meeting are showing any signs of infection, Potter said.

Everyone who was at that meeting is encouraged to quarantine themselves.

Before Bullock’s announcement today, Havre Public Schools posted on the district website that classes were cancelled for Monday and more information would be available later in the day. After Bullock’s announcement, the school district updated its announcement, saying school is closed until March 27 and all school-related activities are suspended.

The district says grab-and-go breakfast will be available at Lincoln-McKinley Primary School and Highland Park Early Primary School from 8:00-10:00 a.m. and lunch will be available from 11:00 a.m. to 1 p.m. Meals will be ready to be picked up curbside.

Also Sunday, Stone Child College on Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation asked all staff and students who have traveled out of the area, including for basketball tournaments, to quarantine themselves for 14 days. The tribal college said it was working on plans to transition to online learning.

Bullock’s directive comes one day after other regional education systems decided to shutter classes and two days after news broke that Montana had its first official cases of coronavirus.

Montana was among the last four states with no confirmed cases of coronavirus, despite an earlier case involving a resident who was in Maryland when she tested positive for the coronavirus. The woman hadn’t been in Montana since November.

Just hours on Friday before state officials announced the presumptively positive, Havre’s Northern Montana Health Care announced it had opened an alternative clinic for suspected coronavirus patients.

On Saturday, officials from Rocky Boy and Box Elder schools announced they were suspending classes, and the Chippewa Cree Tribal Council declared a state of emergency on the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation.

The decisions come in the throes of basketball season, an exciting time for the community. Lodge Grass defeated the Rocky Boy boys’ basketball team in the quarterfinals of the state Class B championships Friday night. The team and the large contingent of Star fans that usually follow it to tournament games returned home late Friday night or Saturday morning. 

The first sign of things to come happened Thursday, when Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian announced that Montana University System schools would transition to online-only instruction to prevent the spread of coronavirus. That included Havre’s MSU-Northern.

On Friday, MSU-Northern clarified that it wouldn’t cancel all in-person instruction due to the hands-on nature of curriculum like plumbing, mechanics, electrical, and nursing. The university said it will take steps to limit the size of student groups and ensure their learning environments are clean.

At the time of Christian’s announcement, there were still zero confirmed cases of coronavirus in Montana, despite the state health department officially counting the resident who had been diagnosed in Maryland but hadn’t been to Montana since November.

By Friday, however, four people from different Montana counties tested presumptively positive. On Saturday, Christian announced he was one of two people who tested presumptively positive for coronavirus that day. He is recovering in isolation.

“As a public official who interacts with many people on a day-to-day basis, it’s absolutely critical that I share these results and notify those I have come in contact with,” Christian said.

Christian believes he was exposed to the coronavirus during the Board of Regents meeting in Dillon.

Havre resident Paul Tuss, executive director of Bear Paw Development, is on the Board of Regents, but did not attend that meeting.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated.

MORE LOCAL CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE:

Write to Paul Dragu at editor@havreherald.com

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editor@havreherald.com (406) 262-7778
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