March 24 COVID-19 updates: School closures, dine-in restrictions extended to April 10; Catholic schools closed through May 4; election updates; county landfill changes; changes to GFPD operations, city animal shelter; GF Clinic now accepting homemade masks;
Gov. Steve Bullock announced this afternoon that the directives closing schools and placing restrictions on restaurants, bars and more have been extended through April 10.
Those directives may be extended or shortened based on future directives, Bullock said on March 24.
Those directives were scheduled to expire on March 27, but Bullock said he wanted those entities to have more notice for planning purposes.
Bullock also said he’s prohibiting all nonessential social and recreational gatherings outside of a home of greater than 10 people if a distance of six feet between people cannot be maintained.
Bullock said school districts should follow the guidelines in the initial directive on school closures released earlier this month.
Officials of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Great Falls-Billings are asking Catholic schools statewide to remain closed with ongoing remote learning instruction until May 4.
Great Falls Public Schools staff has drafted plans to present to the school board during a special meeting 5:30 p.m. March 25 when the board will be asked to approve the plans.
Before finalizing these plans, Bullock has asked for school districts to allow for public input. Once the board approves the plans, they must be submitted to the governor’s office no later than 5 p.m. March 27, according to GFPS.
GFPS is asking for public input between now and 3 p.m. March 25 so staff can prepare a finalized proposal for the board to consider at 5:30 p.m.
The proposed plan is here: Great Falls Public Schools’ Plan of Action
Provide input by emailing comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bullock also issued a directive allowing local governments to make adjustments to office hours, sick leave policies and other changes to ensure social distancing and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Great Falls Clinic accepting homemade masks
The Great Falls Clinic is accepting homemade masks at this time and will be sharing with all healthcare organizations throughout the community.
The clinic is accepting 3D masks as well.
There are some specific requirements for acceptable masks which are provided in the links below.
The clinic intends to share the masks that are made and donated to other healthcare organizations as the need arises, according to a release, but at this time, we are not aware of any other organization accepting them locally but will continue to update its Facebook volunteer group page with this information as well.
Cascade County Commissioners were scheduled to consider a resolution postponing all events and facility rentals at Expo Park through April 30 during their March 24 meeting.
Commissioners Joe Briggs and Jim Larson pulled the item from the agenda since all events scheduled through the end of April had been canceled, rescheduled or moved so the item was moot they said.
The Montana Association of Counties sent a letter to county commissions across Montana on March 24, including the Cascade County Commission, asking for their support in encouraging the governor to make the June 2 primary and all-mail election. The May schools election is mail only.
Gov. Steve Bullock said during a March 24 press briefing that he should information on the primary released within a day or so.
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
Elections officials statewide, including Rina Moore, Cascade County elections official, are asking Bullock to make it a mail only ballot, but under the current laws, tribal officials have concerns because of the rules prohibiting ballot harvesting and the limited access to regular mail, according to lawsuit filed by ACLU Montana earlier this month.
In the meantime, the county is encouraging voters to request absentee ballots to reduce the number of people at the polls in June, lessening the health danger of COVID-19 to elections judges, many of whom fall into the at-risk population for the virus, and to the general population.
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
Moore said the county elections office sent letters to the 3,700 active voters who currently use the polls asking them to vote absentee.
“The elections office would like to take into consideration our current elections judges whose ages range from 70-80 and for the general public’s health,” according to the letter. “The elections office would like to control the congestion of the crowd at our polls in order to practice our social distancing. We would like to keep everyone safe and healthy for this election season.”
Moore said a number of people have responded and opted for the mailed ballot but some still want to vote at the polls. They have the option to choose the mail ballot for just the June primary election and then go back to the polls.
Election judges are paid county employees for election day and qualify for workman’s compensation, so Moore said there are questions regarding the county’s liability should they contract COVID-19 while working the polls.
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
The county elections office will soon send letters to the 8,700 inactive voters in an attempt to update their voter status and also recommend they vote by mail in the primary.
A voter becomes inactive by not voting in the last presidential election and not responding to two attempts by the elections office to update their information. Often it’s people who have moved away, Moore said.
Countywide, there are 45,705 active and inactive voters. Of those, 36,952 are active and of those 31,771 are absentee, according to county figures.
For the school election, there are a total of 40,042 active and inactive voters. Of those, 31,942 are active and of those, 27,589 are absentee.
Jim Stone filed to run against Jim Larson for county commission.
Tina Henry is running unopposed for clerk of court.
The school board candidates so far are: Jan Cahill and Kim Skornogoski, both incumbents, as well as Eric Hinebauch and Bill Bronson.
The filing deadline for the school election is 5 p.m. March 26.
County solid waste
As of Monday, Republic Services and the county has updated procedures at the High Plains Landfill.
Customers and staff are asked to keep a distance of six feet. The landfill is no longer accepting cash or county coupons, but customers should show their county coupon book to the attendant to prove residency.
Rina Moore, clerk and recorder, said county residents pay for landfill services in their taxes and March is a slower month, so the county anticipates losing less than $1,000 in cash per month while pandemic mitigation measures are in place.
If residents have a decide with Freon, they’re asked to provide the site attendant with their name and address and the county will bill the $35 directly. Moore said the fee only covers the county’s cost to have Freon disposed.
For any questions about landfill operations or changes, contact the Clerk and Recorder’s office at 788-1720 or Republic Services at 761-2545.
City Animal Shelter
The Great Falls Animal Shelter has instituted several protective measures that take effect March 25:
- Hours of operation changing to Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The shelter will also be closed on Saturdays until further notice.
- Animal intakes only accepted by law enforcement agencies. The shelter doors will be closed to the public. Staff will only accept animals from Animal Control, Great Falls Police Department, and the Cascade County Sheriff’s Department.
- Reclaims, adoptions, and cremation drop-offs are done by appointment only. Call the facility to schedule an appointment for these services.
- Donations are still being accepted. Call and speak to a staff member to find out how to contribute to the shelter.
The goal of the shelter’s protective measures is to maintain customer and animal care while also reducing staff and customer exposure to COVID-19. For more information about the City of Great Falls Animal Shelter’s COVID-19 protective measures or to schedule an appointment, contact the Animal Shelter at 406-454-2276.
Humane Society of Cascade County
“Due to the COVID 19 epidemic, we cannot hold spay/neuter clinics at this time. However, we have alternative plans in place. Please continue to call 231-4722 and leave a message. If you have already called about your dog in the past few months, you don’t need to call again, we have you on the list and will begin to work our way through that list. We are nearly caught up on the list of calls for cats needing spayed and neutered. Thanks to years of effort, we have begun to see a decline in the numbers of unwanted cats and dogs in our community. Until we can get your animal in for its surgery, please keep unaltered animals separate from each other. And please do not let your unaltered cats outside to roam. Help our community hold the ground we have gained so far.”
Great Falls Police Department changes
The GFPD has made changes to limit staff’s exposure to COVID-19.
Those changes are:
- We have suspended fingerprint and local background investigation services
- We encourage community members to report non-violent or cold property crimes online.
- Community members with questions regarding the Montana Sexual and Violent Offender Registry may call Det. Fisher at 406-455-8406 or SVOR Technician Melissa at 406-455-8506
- Community members who wish to retrieve items from safekeeping or evidence must call 406-455-8501 to schedule an appointment.
- We have posted a notice on the front doors of the police station instructing anyone who is not feeling well, has been diagnosed with COVID-19, or has come in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 to refrain from entering the building.
Great Falls Fire Rescue
Assistant Chief Jeremy Jones told The Electric that Great Falls Fire Rescue implemented additional screening of calls through the dispatch center on Jan. 30 as news of the COVID-19 oubreak started ramping up in the Seattle area.
Since then, they’ve added other screening questions related to international travel and symptoms for flu like calls, he said.
The department doesn’t have surgical gowns, but they have Tyvek suits on hand so firefighters are wearing those with gloves, glasses and N95 masks to calls with reported flu like symptoms. To all other medical calls, they’re wearing glasses, gloves and EMS jackets, he said.
Jones said they overdid it, but are trying to limit exposure to firefighters.
They’ve cancelled a lot of training, spent significant time disinfecting the fire stations, which have been closed to the public, cancelled public programs, and switching to Zoom for daily meetings and some trainings.
The department is going to continue using Zoom for some meetings and training after the pandemic since it saves time and keeps firefighters in their districts more, Jones said.
GFFR is not responding to Code 1, or minor medical, calls at nursing homes during the pandemic, nor are they responding to calls when police officers stop and check on someone they around town and normally ask for medical to check the person, Jones said.
The city has moved the mechanics who work on police and fire vehicles to a separate location from the city garage so that emergency operations can continue should any of those employees be exposed to the virus.
GFFR has instituted a single point of entry at all fire stations and firefighters are doing daily self-checks to make sure no one comes to work with symptoms and exposes other first responders.
Jones said the department has plans for further operational changes should the COVID-19 situation in Great Falls worsen.
He said they’ve also seen a decline in the number of calls and that for the most part, people are staying home.
Since March 14, Jones said GFFR has had 234 total calls and of those, 14 were people with flu-like symptoms.
Jones said they’ve also developed a separate spreadsheet to track calls of flu-like symptoms to watch the trends and have the information handy if the health department needs it or any of those people test positive for the virus.
City Public Works closed to public
Until further notice, the City of Great Falls is closing the Public Works complex to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Normal operations will continue, including sanitation pickup, street maintenance, water meter reading, etc. Urgent meetings that cannot be conducted via teleconference may be scheduled by appointment at the discretion of the department director. For questions, contact: Operations (Street, Sanitation, or Traffic) – (406)771-1401; Engineering – (406)771-1258; Water Utilities – (406)727-8045; Administration (406)727-8390.
Additional information regarding Public Works may be found online.
Park and Recreation operational changes
Based on the recommendations of the Cascade City-County Health Department, starting the Park and Recreation office will be closed to the public until further notice beginning March 25.
For further information or assistance, contact the Park and Recreation office at 406-771-1265 or visit https://greatfallsmt.net/recreation
Total cases in Montana
According to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services there are now 51 cases of COVID-19 across the state. One of those cases is counted in Montana though the woman was tested and remains in Maryland.
A state tracking map shows the confirmed cases are as follows by county:
- Cascade County: 3 cases
- Gallatin County: 19 cases
- Yellowstone County: 8 cases
- Missoula County: 6 cases
- Flathead County: 4 cases
- Lewis and Clark County: 3 cases
- Silver Bow County: 3 cases
- Madison County: 1 case
- Ravalli County: 1 case
- Broadwater County: 1 case
- Roosevelt County: 1 case
- Lake County: 1 case
The History Museum
The History Museum is temporarily closed due to COVID-19 but is now offering gift shop sales by phone. Shoppers can call 406-452-3462 from 1-4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Many of the shop’s items are on the website, but it’s not a complete list, according to the museum.
The museum is also selling raffle tickets at $20 each or six for $100. Prize one is a flight over the Chinese Wall; prize two is brunch for eight and flowers for a year. Call the gift shop number above to purchase.
Montana Cooperative Development Center
Join the Montana Cooperative Development Center in building your knowledge and skillset in utilizing social media venues and staying connected to your members and customers. The webinar is designed for cooperatives, but all businesses/organizations in Montana are welcome to join as the information will be universal.
The free webinar is 9 a.m. March 27. Donations are appreciated.
The Great Falls Development Authority has created a Virtual Meetup series for businesses to share information during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The virtual meetups are an opportunity for businesses and resource partners to get together to share what’s working, and what’s not.
Additional business resources regarding the COVID-19 crisis and the meetups can be found on the GFDA website.
Tourism event postponements
According to Great Falls Montana Tourism, some major events planned for the next few months have been postponed including:
- Harvest Springs training conference that was to be held May 1-2, 2020 has been postponed. This event would have brought 100 people into Great Falls for 2 nights.
- Montana Special Olympics has postponed the State Summer Games that were to have happened May 12-15 in Great Falls.
- Montana Credit Union conference postponed their planning until 2023.
- The Montana FFA State Convention and CDE Days that was to be held March 24-28, 2020 in Great Falls, Montana has moved to MSU in Bozeman with reduced activities.
- American Rock Art Research Association has postponed their event that would have been in Great Falls June 5-8, until some time in 2021.
As of today, BMW Motorcycle Owners Association Rally is still scheduled for June 25-28, 2020.
REAL ID deadline postponed
The Oct. 1 deadline for obtaining a voluntary REAL ID is being postponed due to COVID-19. The new deadline will be announced in the near future, according to the Montana Department of Justice.
“For now, Montanans can delay applying for REAL ID driver licenses at their Motor Vehicle Division driver license examiner station if they wish,” Attorney General Tim Fox said in a release. “This development, together with our having secured a directive from the governor to allow Montanans with driver licenses that expire in March, April and May to delay renewing those licenses for 90 days, will protect our motoring public and staff from unnecessary contact while we all practice social distancing.”
The REAL ID Act, passed by Congress in 2005, enacted the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation that the federal government set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses. The law established minimum security standards for license issuance and production and prohibited federal agencies from accepting (for certain purposes) driver’s licenses and identification cards from states not meeting the REAL ID minimum standards, according to the release.
In 2017, Montana’s legislature passed and the governor signed a bill giving Montanans the option of obtaining a REAL ID compliant driver license.
After the deadline, which has been postponed due to COVID-19, a non-compliant driver license will no longer suffice for purposes of boarding a plane or entering certain buildings and installations (for example: federal agency office buildings, federal courthouses, military bases, nuclear power plants). Anyone not having REAL ID compliant state-issued identification after the deadline will need an alternate form of identification such as a valid U.S. passport, according to the release.
More information about REAL ID in Montana is available at www.mtrealid.gov.
National Park changes
In consultation with local county health officers to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Yellowstone National Oark is closed to all visitors until further notice.
Glacier National Park has modified operations.
As of March 21, the Apgar Visitor Center and Bookstore will close until further notice. The park will continue to provide visitor information through alternative means at the Apgar Visitor Center Plaza.