BY MARTIN KIDSTON
While some urban counties in Montana have taken aggressive steps to curtail the spread of COVID-19 by closing certain businesses, not all counties have acted, though a state mandate issued Friday will change that.
Gov. Steve Bullock directed all bars and restaurants, gyms, theaters and casinos to close effective 8 p.m. on Friday. The act extends the efforts taken by a handful of urban counties to slow the spread of the virus.
“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 statement.
The directive requires all restaurants to close their dine-in services, along with bars, breweries and distilleries. Cigar bars are also covered by the directive, as are casinos, health clubs, pools and recreational facilities.
The order is set to expire on March 27, the same day the closure of all K-12 public schools was set to lift. But Bullock said Friday that date will likely be extended.
“We face extraordinary health risks – and with it even further risks to our economic and social well-being – if we do not act now,” he said. “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.”
Along with the closures, Bullock this week made emergency changes to the state’s unemployment program by waiving certain requirements around benefits. Among them, the state added a waiver to the typical one-week period before unemployment benefits kick in for laid-off workers.
The new rules allow an individual who was directed by their employer to leave work or not report to work due to the virus to qualify as being temporarily laid off, making them eligible for benefits.
Workers who must quarantine or who need to take care of a family member due to coronavirus will also be considered temporarily laid off and eligible for benefits under the new rules.
“The emergency rules waive the typical one week waiting period to access unemployment benefits to limit the gap Montanans have between pay checks during these challenging times,” Bullock said. “Individual claims won’t be charged to a specific employer’s account.
This story was originally published by the Missoula Current here.