March 15 COVID-19 updates: Gov. Steve Bullock directing public K-12 schools close through March 27 to prevent spread of COVID-19; GFPS closing, offering distance learning; Great Falls private schools closing; City of Great Falls canceling some public meetings

Gov. Steve Bullock announced March 15 that he’s directing the closure of all public K-12 schools, social distancing measures and limiting visitation at nursing home facilities to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“As governor, it is my top priority to protect the health and safety of Montanans, particularly our most vulnerable, at a time when we face the potential for extraordinary health risks from coronavirus in our state,” Bullock said in a release. “Social distancing is one of the most important primary protective measures to flatten the curve of this virus. I cannot underscore the seriousness of following these measures to help our neighbors, friends, and families.”

Bullock directed Montana’s public K-12 schools to close starting March 16 until March 27.

Great Falls Public Schools are closed for the next two weeks.

District administrators met Sunday evening to plan for providing instruction online for middle and high school students, and either online or with instructional packets for elementary school students.

Assistant Superintendent for grades 7-12 Heather Hoyer said currently the district is planning to offer distance learning so that the school year will end as scheduled and students will meet their educational requirements and benchmarks, particularly seniors.

On Monday and Tuesday, secondary educators would be meeting and organizing plans to move their instruction online, Hoyer said.

On Wednesday, middle and high schools will be open for students to collect their materials and necessary supplies, Hoyer said. Students should also pick up their musical instruments if they have them, Hoyer said.

Secondary students will use PlanBook, which is a platform they’ve been using this year so they are familiar with the online system, Hoyer said.

She said the district hopes to be live with the system on Monday and asked for patience as the district deals with the closure.

Hoyer said they’re in “uncharted waters,” and “this is an ever evolving process.”

Assistant Superintendent for grades K-6 Ruth Uecker said that on Monday, elementary teachers would be contacting families to determine if the online learning option would work for them, and if not, teachers would prepare paper packets for those students.

Uecker said that on Wednesday, elementary schools would be open during normal hours only for those families to pick up instructional paper packets.

GFPS employees need to report to work on March 16, according to Superintendent Tom Moore, and those who need to bring elementary aged children with them may do so.

GFPS will be offering childcare at 14 sites for their families whose parents are healthcare workers, first responders and military members. Each site is limited to 50 children. Entrance will be limited to one door and parents need to show identification upon drop-off and pick-up.

Nursing staff will screen children upon arrival to ensure wellness, according to Trisha Gardner, health officer at the Cascade County City-County Health Department.

The district is listing updates for childcare on its website. For questions about childcare, call 268-6776 or 268-6006.

Moore said parents should provide lunch for their students on the first day at childcare, but the district will issue updates regarding lunch for subsequent days.

Family Connections is also offering childcare options, with priority going to healthcare workers and first responders, and they can be reached at 761-6010.

GFPS is also providing food to students and families.

Jessa Youngers, the GFPS food services director, said beginning March 16, the district will have warehouse trucks at specific sites at specific times around town where families can pick up lunch and breakfast items. It will be grab and go style and free to people under 18, Youngers told The Electric.

The food service schedule and sites will also be posted on the GFPS website.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Great Falls-Billings announced March 15 that all Catholic schools in the diocese will follow Bullock’s order and all Catholic grade schools and high schools are closed for the next two weeks.

Foothills Community Christian School will follow Bullock’s order and close beginning March 16.

“FCCS teachers and staff will be meeting to plan how to provide remote classes as early as Tuesday. Our goal is to continue to provide academic studies via remote classroom rather than completely cancelling instruction for our PK-12 students,” according to an email from FCCS.

March 13-14 Cascade County COVID-19 updates

Spring Lifelong Learning classes canceled or rescheduled due to COVID-19

GFPS cancels, postpones all after school activities through March 27 due to COVID-19

University of Providence moving classes online for remainder of semester due to COVID-19

GFC MSU extending spring break by a week to prepare for remote instruction due to COVID-19

During this time, schools will engage in planning to provide arrangements to provide free meals to students who need them, pursuant to a waiver obtained from the United States Department of Agriculture, and to provide for all other matters and services that students need in the event of future or ongoing closure. Schools will continue to receive all state funding during this two-week closure, according to a release.

The state will work with schools during this period to evaluate and consider next steps as needed. The decision to close schools is to slow the spread and is not in response to an outbreak in schools.

“I recognize that our schools often serve as a lifeline for families and that this decision is going to have disruption on Montanans over the coming weeks. I’m committed to working with schools, communities and public health to minimize the impact. I encourage businesses to do everything they can to support families as well,” said Bullock said in a release.

To mitigate the impact of school closures on families, Bullock is encouraging all employers to be generous with their employee sick and paid leave policies during this time.

Bullock also strongly recommended that the public limits all gatherings, especially those more than 50 people, in every community across the state. Bullock also recommended that individuals over the age of 60 or who are immunocompromised or with chronic health conditions do not participate in gatherings of more than 20 people. He also recommends that parents should avoid, if possible, placing children for childcare with grandparents or individuals over the age of 60 or immunocompromised persons.

Visitation in Montana’s nursing homes is suspended except for certain compassionate care situations. People who meet the exception for visitation will undergo a screening to determine whether they have traveled in the last two weeks, are residing where community spread is occurring, or if they have symptoms consistent with COVID-19.

Cascade County City-County Health Department

CCHD posted this weekend that they sent 10 tests to the state lab this week and all were negative.

As of 2:15 p.m. March 15, the Montana Public Health Laboratory has tested 169 people for COVID-19. Of those, 163 have come back negative, but six persons have come back positive for COVID-19. Thirty people have been monitored by public health in Montana and 26 individuals have completed the monitoring process without being diagnosed with COVID-19. Four individuals remain under monitoring, according to CCHD.

Great Falls Transit

Due to the Governor’s directive and guidance regarding the coronavirus pandemic, the Great Falls Transit District is suspending fixed route service beginning March 17 until March 27.

Paratransit services will continue for medical rides only.

GFTD will update this information as circumstances dictate.

City of Great Falls

The city has canceled a special City Commission meeting that was scheduled for March 16.

The city has also canceled the regularly scheduled March 17 City Commission work session and adjusted the regular agenda to move agenda items that were expected to draw large numbers of people.

Great Falls Park and Recreation has canceled senior water aerobics and aquatics solutions classes until further notice.

Great Falls Public Schools

All Heisey games and practices in GFPS are cancelled.

Lunches

Gore Hill Self Storage and the Double Barrel Coffee House Cafe are partnering to help parents however we can while schools are closed. We are offering free sack lunches to all children during this time. No questions asked. Just stop in at the Double Barrel between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and it’s on us.’

Local retailers

Walmart stores in Great Falls have reduced hours beginning March 15 to 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. until further notice. This will help ensure associates can clean and stock products, according to Walmart.

Barnes and Noble in Marketplace is operating 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily for temporary hours.

Eagle Mount Great Falls

“Eagle Mount Great Falls has been assessing our programs on a daily basis utilizing the CDC and our local City-County Health Department for insight and guidance regarding the Coronavirus (COVID-19). As this situation continues to evolve, we made the decision to cancel all of our adaptive programs from Monday, March 16, 2020, until April 6, 2020. This decision was made to protect our participants, volunteers, staff and fellow community members.”

Bass Clef School of Music and Fine Arts

“To protect our students and faculty, per school closures ordered by the Governor, we will not have classes or lessons at the school for the next two weeks. We will be reaching out to our students over the next few days to setup Skype lessons. Please signup for Skype so that we may be able to get the appropriate information when we contact you. Thank you and sorry for the inconvenience.”

Miss Linda’s School of Dance

“Gov. Bullock has just closed all Montana schools grades K-12 for a two week period. In accordance, Miss Linda’s School of Dance will follow suit. We put the safety of our students and families at the forefront.
Many of you already know that at the last minute we were only allowed to present our Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Jr. musical one time, Thursday evening due to safety issues. We have postponed the Young Dancers Company fund raiser dinner/show ExtraVaDanceA scheduled for March 21st. It will be rescheduled at a later date. Also, the YDC group cancelled their trip to Denver for the Artists Simply Human Competition and Workshop in Denver.
Our spring production is still scheduled for May 16th. We will get back to classes, give out the costumes, and get ready for a wonderful show.
Please look out for yourselves and your families. We care about you very much.”