Three Forks Voice - Connect With Your Community!

By Jack H. Smith
Three Forks Voice 

COVID-19 leads to school closures, events postponed


March 18, 2020

On Thursday of last week, Governor Steve Bullock declared a state of emergency to exist within the state of Montana related to the communicable disease COVID-19 novel coronavirus. In an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, Bullock announced Sunday a two-week closure of public schools in the state from March 16 to March 27. The directives announced by Bullock also included limited visitation at nursing homes and public guidance regarding social distancing.

Jefferson County Public Health Nurse Karen Wandel reported Tuesday there were nine COVID-19 cases reported in the state. One case has been reported in Gallatin County.

Within the past few days, there have also been numerous closures and cancellations in the Three Forks area. The Three Forks Senior Center will be closed up to a month, the Three Forks Community Library has announced the cancellation of all activities until the end of the month, and the upcoming Three Forks Youth Area Task Force Casino Night scheduled for April 4 has been postponed.

The Three Forks Wrestling Club had their Divisional Tournament scheduled for last Saturday in Whitehall canceled. A gallery opening scheduled at Aunt Dofe's in Willow Creek next Friday has also been canceled. On Monday afternoon, the Three Forks Chamber of Commerce officials announced their annual dinner scheduled for next week had been postponed. V-42 Fitness in downtown Three Forks also announced Tuesday they would be temporarily closing their facility.

An order issued Monday by Gallatin City-County Health Officer Matt Kelley imposes restrictions on bars, brew pubs, wineries, casinos, and restaurants in order to help reduce the spread of covid-19 and slow down the current pandemic.

The order does the following:

• Orders the closure of all bars, brew pubs, wineries, distilleries with public tasting rooms, and casinos in Gallatin County effective Monday, March 16 at 9 p.m. through March 24.

• Orders restaurants to close dining room services during the same time period but allow take-out and delivery service to operate;

• Allows limited exceptions for food service establishments that are the primary meal sources for a population that depends on it as one of its sole or primary sources of food, such university-based dining facilities or cafeterias in hospital and care facilities;

• The restrictions to not apply to grocery stores, deli counters within grocery stores, or convenience stores.

"Our goal in taking these actions is to slow down the spread of covid-19 in order to allow our health care system to prepare, build resources, and plan," Kelley said. "We know these actions will create significant and lasting economic impact and disruption and we do not take them lightly. But in light of the current situation, we feel it is a necessary step." Kelley said a major concern informing the action is the potential for hundreds of people gathering for St. Patrick's Day celebration in bars and restaurants all over Gallatin County. "This situation is serious enough to warrant school closures so it seems reasonable and prudent to put off St. Patrick's Day celebrations until after a pandemic response," Kelley said. The decision comes on the heels of recommendation from the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to all Americans to limit gatherings of 50 or more people as part of a nationwide effort to reduce disease spread through social distancing. The restrictions announced in Gallatin County and other Montana communities follow similar measures announced recently in Illinois, California, New York, Ohio, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Washington.

In a release issued Sunday, Bullock said 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.

"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...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," he said.

The Three Forks School District on Monday announced plans for meal service and education. On Monday and Tuesday, the school started grab and go lunches from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

A release from the school states, "each sack will contain a lunch as well as a breakfast bar for the next morning. We will then be providing delivery to the Clarkston area starting next Monday (March 23). We will still continue to make Grab and Gos for pick up at the school this week (Monday and Tuesday only) as well. We would love to start delivery today, but we are also needing food delivery from our suppliers and that will take place on Thursday this week."

The school is also planning their educational delivery system."

"Our staff will be working next week to plan for extended closure. The elementary staff will be working in grade levels to prepare materials that students will be able to pick up or access at the school. The middle school and high school will be working to prepare primarily Google Classroom material or material that can be picked up as well. We will keep you in the loop when this will be available. Students will not be required to do work until the 3rd week of school closure. We will also provide links to online programs that students will be able to utilize. These are not required but encouraged to stay sharp."

The district went ahead with their regular school board meeting, but it was closed to the public.

Three Forks Mayor Sean Gifford also addressed COVID-19 and asked people to think locally.

"This day and age we are plugged into social medial and a 24-hour news cycle. I'm asking people to step away from the information overload and start thinking locally. The reality of the current situation is our lives will be disrupted in the near future. Whether its government-mandated shutdowns, quarantines, or sickness," he said. "I'm asking people to continue to live their lives and take into consideration the CDC recommended measures for hygiene. Unfortunately, one of the downsides of this situation is that our local establishments, community employees, small businesses and non-profits are going to suffer. These small businesses and non-profits employ your neighbors and friends and keep our city running."

During the halftime of the Three Fork's High School boys basketball state tournament semifinal matchup against Fairfield, MHSA Director Mark Beckman sent an email announcing the cancellation of the rest of the tournament.

"The MHSA has received word from the Montana Department of Health and Human Services that there are now four confirmed cases of COVID-19. As such, the Montana High School Association has no choice but to cancel the remainder of our state basketball tournaments, said Beckman.

Though this is not the result that the MHSA wants, the Association will designate the winners of tonight's semi-final as co-state champions," he said.

The Wolves who fell in the 58-39 in the semifinals did not have the opportunity to play for a consolation championship Saturday.

Beckman announced Monday that all spring activities will be suspended until further notice. The executive board will reevaluate the situation on April 13.

Bullock issued an executive order March 12 declaring a state of emergency to exist within the state of Montana related to the communicable disease COVID-19 novel coronavirus.

"Now is the time to plan, not to panic. Our state has been preparing for coronavirus to come to Montana and we will be prepared to respond all along the way," said Governor Bullock. "Just like we do when any challenging situation hits our communities, we stick together to make sure that we mitigate the impact, that we have an appropriate response, and that we slow the spread."

The emergency order allows the governor to direct a coordinated response to an outbreak of communicable disease. This includes mobilizing all available state resources, such as emergency funds or personnel from the National Guard. It also allows the governor to take additional steps as warranted.

U.S. Senator Steve Daines issued a statement after it was confirmed Montanans have tested positive for the coronavirus.

"Cindy and I are praying for those who are infected and for their families. We urge all Montanans to take the necessary preventative measures in anticipation of additional cases. I'll continue to be in close contact with state and local officials as we work together to combat this virus," Daines said.

On Tuesday, Daines unveiled three more major proposals that will help protect Montana's workers, families, first responders, healthcare professionals and small businesses during the Coronavirus Outbreak. Daines' plan includes: a tax relief payment of 7.65% for workers and small businesses, $1,000 payment for all first responders and healthcare professionals and to suspend SBA loan payments for three months.

"We are in the midst of a massive public health and economic challenges because of the Coronavirus outbreak. Our economy, our small businesses and the livelihoods of thousands of Montanans are at stake," Daines said. "In addition to several priorities I'm working on to protect the health of Montanans, I'm fighting to help our working families, small businesses, first responders and healthcare providers during the Coronavirus outbreak."

The United States Cattlemen's Association (USCA) called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to take immediate steps to address the impact the Coronavirus (COVID-19) is having on the U.S. cattle market.

USCA President Dr. Brooke Miller, M.D. issued a statement Sunday.

"The actions that federal, state, and local government - along with private entities - are making to control the spread of the outbreak are the right decisions. We must continue to 'flatten the curve' to protect our loved ones at greater risk of contracting the virus.

Melissa Jenkins

A spectator takes in the state basketball tournament -- with precaution.

"However, producers' bottom lines are suffering due to the effect the outbreak has had on the cattle and beef industries. We must act expeditiously to return normalcy to the cattle marketplace. Fortunately, the USDA Commodity Credit Corporation can provide the needed programs and funding to address these rare and tumultuous incidents.

"We call on Secretary Sonny Perdue to work in an expedited manner to provide the needed programs and financial support. In addition, we ask for oversight of the cattle marketplace to prevent anti-competitive buying practices in the days and weeks ahead.

Voice Publisher Melissa Jenkins said the paper will continue to publish and be distributed until the option is not available due to a temporary closure of our printing facility.

NorthWestern Energy voluntarily suspended service disconnections for non-payment, effective immediately, to help customers who may be financially impacted as the result of this outbreak. This suspension will apply primarily to residential customers and will remain in effect until further notice.


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