Gov. Steve Bullock on Monday asked people to not visit Montana, and ordered anyone who travels here from another state or country to self-quarantine for two weeks.
The directive came as Montana marked its fourth death from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. As of Monday evening, there were 177 known cases statewide and a dozen people have been hospitalized.
The directive requires the state Department of Commerce to advise vacation listing and rental sites that they must tell potential out-of-state renters about the quarantine requirement. The Montana Free Press reported last week that vacation rentals saw an uptick in Montana recently, while dropping elsewhere in the country.
People are still allowed to enter Montana, though Bullock suggested they don't, or return home to the state, but must then self-quarantine for two weeks.
“As of today, travel from another state or country is the most common known source of COVID-19 infections in Montana. I am asking anyone who is in Montana and has recently traveled from another state or country to do the right thing and self-quarantine for 14 days,” Bullock said in the release.
Montana is under a stay-at-home order banning all nonessential travel and business. Public K-12 schools are closed, as are universities. Bullock had previously issued an advisory asking but not directing people to self-quarantine after returning from international travel.
The directive applies to both residents and nonresidents who enter the state for non-work-related purposes. Health care workers are exempt.
“While we love our visitors, we would ask that you not come visit while Montanans are watching out for one another by staying at home,” Bullock said. “This is important not only to protect our health care system, but also to protect against the spread of COVID-19.”
The Montana National Guard may now conduct temperature checks at Montana airports and rail stations and screen for potential exposure history for travelers arriving in Montana from another state or country.
The directive expires April 10, the same day as the state-at-home order, though Bullock has extend previous orders such as the school closures.
Gallatin County, which is popular with travelers and tourists, has the most cases in the state, at 69, or nearly 40% of the state's total. But cases are also increasing elsewhere, including in rural Toole County, which has the state's first outbreak in an assisted care facility and reported two deaths by Monday.
Last week the Marias Medical Center said employees at the Marias Heritage Center, a 40-unit retirement and assisted living facility, had tested positive for COVID-19. That facility is in Shelby.
“This situation also exposed others to COVID-19 and, as such, we expect that there could be other positives,” a press release said.
Sunday night Cut Bank Pioneer Press newspaper reported that Toole County resident Bev Rogers had died of COVID-19.
And on Monday morning, in a video posted to the Toole County Health Department's Facebook page, Blair Tomsheck, who works at the health department, confirmed the second death of a resident there, bringing the statewide total to four. She did not provide information about the person's age, gender or other details.
Bullock's office said it was notified of the deaths Monday and is aware of the risks to the senior community in Toole County, which has six cases, and is working to deploy additional resources to the health care system. That includes sending additional personal protective equipment for health care providers and using health care staff from other areas of the state, the governor's office said Monday.
Toole County commission chair Joe Pehan said Monday that health care facilities there are on lockdown and patients and residents are not allowed out of their rooms, to help prevent the spread of the virus. Employees wear protective suits when delivering meals.
"We're taking every precaution to keep everyone safe and keep this from spreading in all our facilities," Pehan said. "The whole town, we're on the governor's shelter-in-place (order) so there isn't hardly any movement in the town of Shelby whatsoever."
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