March 23 COVID-19 update: Beer Week moved to September; city planning office closing to public; county goes to phase 3, significantly adjusting staffing; city commission affirms declaration of emergency and expanding city manager’s authority; free addiction counseling; Bullock issues directive on hospital capacity, medical supplies

Great Falls Craft Beer Week has been postponed to Sept. 13-19 due to COVID-19.

It was originally scheduled June 7-13.

Total cases in Montana

According to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services there are now 45 cases of COVID-19 across the state. One of those cases is counted in Montana though the woman was tested and remains in Maryland.

state tracking map shows the confirmed cases are as follows by county:

  • Cascade County: 3 cases
  • Gallatin County: 16 cases
  • Yellowstone County: 7 cases
  • Missoula County: 6 cases
  • Flathead County: 4 cases
  • Lewis and Clark County: 3 cases
  • Silver Bow County: 2 cases
  • Madison County: 1 case
  • Ravalli County: 1 case
  • Broadwater County: 1 case
  • Roosevelt County: 1 case
  • Lake County: 1 case

City closes planning; votes to expand city manager’s authority under state of emergency

Until further notice, the City of Great Falls Planning and Community Development office is closing its doors to the general public due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Staff will continue normal operations such as accepting permit applications, home occupation and contractor licenses, and scheduling inspections via phone or email. Urgent meetings that cannot be conducted via teleconference may be scheduled by appointment at the discretion of the department director.

March 22 COVID-19 updates: CCHD provides more information on Cascade County cases; Great Falls Clinic offering telehealth options; local hospitals not accepting handmade masks; St. Vincent de Paul updates services

Specific PCD services and direct phone lines are listed below:

  • Home occupations, contractor licenses, and parking information call (406) 455-8414;
  • Permits and inspections call (406) 455-8430;
  • Code enforcement concerns call (406) 455-8574;
  • Community Development Block Grant, Historic Preservation, and Planning programs call (406) 455-8432.

PCD staff will continue to work behind the scenes to ensure that all customers are served.

March 21 COVID-19 update: 3 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Cascade County; WIC offices close to public; CCHD shares additional guidance about gathering restrictions; Symphony reschedules Jubilee concert

City Manager Greg Doyon told The Electric that he’s “actively working with department heads to allow employees to work remotely when possible. Of course, this is to minimize exposure with other co-workers and the public. We’re trying to minimize impacts on public services.”

The City Commission is meeting this afternoon to affirm Doyon’s state of emergency declaration from last week and also discuss the additional authority given to Doyon under the declaration to handle the situation.

Fact checking a few things related to local government and COVID-19

Commissioners were all remote and on video feeds from their home.

Doyon and City Attorney Sara Sexe presented from the Gibson Room in the Civic Center.

March 20 COVID-19 updates: Library offering curbside pickup; Malmstrom AFB raises health protection level; Cascade County declares emergency; county jail still accepting offenders; Bullock orders closures of dine-in food and beverage businesses; Showdown closing; GFPS food drive today at Bison Ford; Great Falls Rescue Mission adjusting operations

“I think we’re in a little bit of a calm before the storm with this crisis,” Doyon said, giving the city time to pause, review its emergency plans and adjust as necessary.

Doyon said the city hasn’t opened the emergency operations center yet, though he said the county has partially opened theirs. Doyon said he anticipates opening the city’s soon as the number of cases increases.

Other city operations have adjusted and Doyon said he’s pushing nonessential items from commission agendas for the foreseeable future to streamline meetings.

Gov. Bullock releases more guidance related to school closures

He’s also developing a running list of deferred projects due to the pandemic, one of those being the city budget.

“Right now I think we’re going to have to shift our priorities to deal with immediate crisis,” he said.

Normally, the city would be starting budget discussions about this time with a proposal coming from the city manager and finance office around June for public hearings and voted in July and August. The city budget year runs July 1 through June 30.

Doyon said he’s talking to the finance department about expediting that process and that the city will have to plan for any costs related to the pandemic that won’t be reimbursed by state or federal resources.

He said he’ll provide more information as that plan develops, but since there isn’t much new revenue anticipated and the Calumet tax appeal still in limbo, he doesn’t expect major changes in the budget for the next fiscal year.

Doyon asked that members of the public refrain from dropping off food at city departments, particularly police, fire, public works and the Civic Center.

He said while staff appreciates it, “the risk for contaminating and exposing people to the virus is just too great at this point.”

City Attorney Sara Sexe said to her knowledge the city had never declared a state of emergency and expanded the city manager’s authority, but “I don’t think our country has ever had anything of this nature to deal with.”

But other cities in Montana are taking similar steps and she’s working with the Montana League of Cities and Towns to keep up on what those others cities are doing ‘to allow for the effective continuation of government in these unusual times.”

Doyon has a conference call with other city managers in Montana on March 23 to talk about what’s going on in their communities.

Commissioners voted 5-0 to affirm the state of emergency and to expand the authority of the city manager.

Commissioner Rick Tryon asked the mayor or city manager to ask the county health officer or governor what conditions would be required to reopen businesses.

Tryon also asked the city manager to draft a resolution with information about the fiscal impact of suspending city water and sanitation fees for businesses that have been forced to close or restrict business due to the pandemic.

Cascade County adjusts staffing levels

Cascade County officials were meeting this morning to make final adjustments to a reduce staffing plan and just before 1 p.m. March 23 released details of their plan.

“In the interest of minimizing the threat of coronavirus to the public we serve, and to protect county employees who serve our community, Cascade County has modified its operations and moved to our Phase 3 staffing plan,” Chairman Jim Larson said in a release.

Due to the transmissibility of the Coronavirus and in conjunction with the CDC guidelines for social distancing, the County Commissioners announced that effective March 23, it is transitioning into Phase 3 of its workplace operations plan. This plan significantly modifies the number of staff working on campus.

The Phase 3 plan will remain in place until at least April 4, subject to ongoing and further analysis.

Under Phase 3, the county’s workforce has been classified into three categories of work:
• Essential employees: Those employees deemed necessary to remain working in county offices in order to conduct the work of the county, as mandated by Montana law.
• Employees who can work remotely.
• Employees who cannot work remotely.

Essential mandated offices which include the Clerk of the District Court, Justice Court, County Attorney, Sheriff, Clerk and Recorder/Auditor, and Treasurer/Superintendent of Schools will remain open for public business during regular business hours although some of those offices will be operating with diminished staffing as employees who can work remotely will be doing so.

The County Attorney’s Office, Sheriff and other law enforcement agencies in Cascade County, along with the Adult and Juvenile Detention Centers will remain at their full staffing capacities so as to maintain public safety and order, and uphold the protections granted to citizens of Cascade County in the U.S. and Montana constitutions.

“While remaining open to the public, commissioners strongly encourages those members of the public who can do so, to avail themselves of the services of those office in a remote fashion,” according to the release.

Other offices which are not mandated under law to remain open will be closed to the public during Phase 3, but email and phone messages will be monitored daily. Urgent and emergency issues will be addressed by those offices as circumstances warrant.

Additionally, although the Aging Services office will be closed to the public, all services will be provided. To secure the facilities at Expo Park, the Expo Park gates will be locked and the facility will be closed to the public. All county staff not on campus during Phase 3 are required to be available to report to work within one hour of notification to return to work.

Cascade County will be tracking the hours of time its employees cannot perform productive work, in the event the federal government creates a funding mechanism to reimburse the county for the time not spent on our normal county work as well as for reporting and statistical gathering purposes.

Seeking Recovery offering free counseling session

JoAnn Malone, an addiction counselor and owner of Seeking Recovery, is offering one free counseling session to anyone suffering from addiction and is in isolation during the COVID-19 closures. To set up a session, call 406-205-3434.

Addiction treatment center moving into 501 Plaza in downtown Great Falls

Meals on Wheels donations

The county’s Meals on Wheels program accepts donations and checks can be made out to Meals on Wheels and mailed to: Aging Services – Meals on Wheels; Attn:  Kim Hulten; 1801 Benefis Court, Great Falls, MT 59405

Staff will issue receipts for all donations.

According to the county, the Meals on Wheels program is for seniors who are at least 60 years of age and homebound. To determine eligibility, a home visit is scheduled to assess the situation and the needs of the individual. The program is not income based.

The county doesn’t bill for the services. The cost is $4 to $5 per meal.

If a client is not going to be home to receive a meal, we request that they call us 24 hours in advance. If we attempt delivery for three days with no one home and we can not contact the client, we will stop the delivery.

For more information, call the county Meals on Wheels program at 406-454-6993.

Brookdale Senior Living is hosting a virtual fundraiser for Meals on Wheels instead of their monthly fundraising breakfast and are starting with a $1,000 donation to the program.

“Let’s make sure our seniors are healthy and safe in their homes during this time,” according to the Brookdale email.

Donations through the Brookdale fundraiser can be sent to Brookdale Great Falls, 1104 6th Ave. N., Great Falls, MT 59401, or call 406-727-0447 for more information.

Bullock directive on hospital space and medical supplies

Gov. Steve Bullock announced measures on March 23 to ensure the state can swiftly acquire the hospital space and medical supplies needed to rapidly respond to a potential surge in COVID-19 cases.

[Bullock’s full directive here]

“While it’s paramount that Montanans stay vigilant with social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19 and avoid burdening our health care system, we must also prepare for a potential surge in critically ill patients and ensure there is hospital space and supplies to respond,” Bullock said in a release. “Today’s actions ensure we can focus on providing urgently needed quality care without delay.”

Bullock’s directive on acquiring hospital space and medical supplies addresses recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advising state and local authorities to plan for a surge of critically ill patients, including identifying and securing additional space to care for patients and the procurement of medical supplies, according to a release.

The directive will temporarily waive the bidding process to quickly procure or distribute emergency supplies or contract for additional space to care for patients and waives strict compliance with reporting requirements around the transfer of certain patients in order to connect patients with the medical care they require quickly and to discharge recovering patients back to their home communities without delay, according to the release.

It will also streamline the process for releasing patients and discharging them back to their home communities without delay as they recover, which will free up beds and equipment for new patients. The directive also reduces administrative the paperwork burden for health care providers, according to the release.