AP NEWS

Montana governor orders 1 million residents to stay at home

March 27, 2020 GMT
FILE - In this Aug. 7, 2019, file photo, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock speaks at the National Press Club in Washington. Bullock's office warned Friday, March 20, 2020, that Montana could face extended closures of public gathering places in the push to slow the spread of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 7, 2019, file photo, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock speaks at the National Press Club in Washington. Bullock's office warned Friday, March 20, 2020, that Montana could face extended closures of public gathering places in the push to slow the spread of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock on Thursday announced that he’s ordering the state’s 1 million residents to stay in their homes in a stepped-up effort to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

The stay-at-home order goes into effect Saturday and lasts until April 10. Under it, people will be allowed to leave home to shop for necessities such as food, to seek medical care and for outdoor activities — as long as they stay 6 feet (1.83 meters) apart from one another — among other exceptions. Essential activities, services and businesses will be allowed to continue uninterrupted.

Bullock previously ordered closed schools, restaurants, bars and other gathering places, and also limited public gatherings to fewer than 10 people. But he said this additional step was needed to ensure the state does “everything we can to cut off the chain of transmission.”

“I’d rather be accused of overreacting than to have the health care system overwhelmed,” he said.

Montana had 90 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, as of Thursday, 13 days after the first state cases were announced.

Most are in urban areas — Gallatin County, where Bozeman is, tops the list at 38 — but individual cases also have begun to appear in rural areas such as Hill, Toole, Roosevelt and Lincoln counties.

Before Bullock issued his order, the Montana Hospital Association wrote the governor to urge him to take that step.

“A large percentage of our elderly populations reside in our most rural communities. While our rural hospitals have taken extraordinary measures to prepare for COVID-19 in their communities, these facilities are simply not equipped to handle a high volume of acute cases,” the unsigned letter dated Thursday said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

The order is likely to accelerate the economic blow already caused by the coronavirus, which was illustrated Thursday with the release of federal jobless claims. That data from the U.S. Department of Labor and the state showed the number of unemployment claims for the week that ended March 21 rose 1,700% compared with the week before, and 1,900% compared with last year.

But Bullock said the economic harm is likely to be greater if the stay-at-home order isn’t followed.

“The question of what happens if we don’t curtail this spread and the long-term impact to the economy are even much more significant than these actions,” he said.