Montana extends school, restaurant closures 2 more weeks

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HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said Tuesday he is extending by two weeks the statewide closures of schools, restaurants and other gathering places as the number of coronavirus cases continues to grow.

The closures, which were due to expire on Friday, will now last until at least April 10, Bullock said in a news conference. They include public schools, restaurants, bars, movie theaters and gyms.

The Democrat also said he is prohibiting “non-essential social and recreational gatherings" of more than 10 people without spacing of at least 6 feet between participants. He did not define what would be considered an essential gathering.

Bullock didn't rule out taking further steps, such as ordering people to stay in their homes, if groups of people continue to gather in public.

“If it’s determined that other measures are needed to be taken to limit crowd gathering, we’ll take those into consideration,” he said.

Montana had 51 cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday afternoon.

In other coronavirus-related developments:

— Bullock announced measures to help the state plan for a potential surge of critically ill patients due to the coronavirus, including temporarily waiving laws regarding the procurement, leasing and disposal of state property in an effort to obtain and distribute emergency supplies or services, contract for additional patient care space or distribute existing supplies. Republican lawmakers noted there are 3,000 hospital beds statewide, and health care facilities could be overwhelmed if just 1% of Montana residents tested positive for coronavirus.

— The Montana University System is offering refunds of dorm costs and meal plans to students who are no longer on campus while taking online classes. Each Montana State University student who has already fully paid for their room and board could qualify for a refund of between $1,600 and $2,000, MSU spokesman Tracy Ellig told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. The refunds for about 3,650 MSU students who live in dorms could total $7 million. The University of Montana expects about 1,000 students to leave their dorm rooms for the rest of the semester.

— Gallatin Valley Mall in Bozeman is closed through at least March 31, Rimrock Mall in Billings has suspended its hours until at least April 6 while Southgate Mall in Missoula and the Kalispell Center Mall are closed until further notice. Several stores at Holiday Village Mall in Great Falls are temporarily closed. Some mall restaurants are open for carry-out.

— The Montana National Guard instituted a closed-base policy to protect employees, said Maj. Gen. Matt Quinn. Only actively serving individuals with an access card or people with a state employee identification card will be allowed to access Montana National Guard installations and facilities until the policy is rescinded.

—President Donald Trump has postponed the Oct. 1 deadline for obtaining a REAL ID, the Montana Department of Justice said. The new deadline has not been set.

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