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Bullock releases COVID-19 outbreak response for schools, addresses wildfires

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HELENA – Gov. Steve Bullock has released outbreak response protocols to support K-12 schools as they navigate increasing COVID-19 cases. This comes at the request of school nurses who have advocated for clearer instruction from the governor.

“By following these protocols in consultation with local public health, our schools can properly quarantine, recommend testing and take other measures to minimize the spread and keeps kids healthy while preserving in-person learning for the students and families who depend on it,” Bullock said at a Sept. 10 press conference.

The new document is based on an outbreak response plan put together by Rhode Island and includes guidance from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control to provide guidance for schools as they respond to cases of COVID-19. He says this will not override county health guidelines, but rather provide additional tools for school nurses and staff.

This guidance recommends hand sanitizing, wearing face coverings when social distancing is not possible and prioritizing activities where physical distancing can be maintained. Other recommendations include minimizing travel, keeping athletic practices or events small, and sanitizing equipment and frequently touched surfaces. It also advises that schools should have plans in place for isolation and treatment of a student or staff who develops COVID-19 symptoms. The full document can be found here.

At the press conference, Bullock also announced more relief grants for both nonprofits and meat processing plants. Over the past few months, $10 million in COVID-19 relief funds have been directed toward the state’s nonprofits through the social services grant program. 

Qualifying nonprofits can now apply for more assistance, should they need it. They can receive up to 10 percent of their 2019 annual operating budget or a maximum grant of $150,000. They must have an annual budget of at least $20,000 to apply and the funds must only be used for pandemic-related purposes.

Bullock initially committed $2 million to the meat processing relief program, and in early August, due to its popularity, added $7.5 million in grant opportunities. The Department of Agriculture will prioritize and review existing applications that have not yet been processed before moving onto new applicants.

Both grant programs are funded through the Montana CARES Act.

Bullock at the press conference also addressed the current state of fires in Montana. Hot and abnormally dry conditions have contributed to extreme fire growth and will continue to create risk throughout the month, he said. 

Currently 1,835 individual fires are burning in Montana totaling 257,350 acres. The Bridger Foothills Fire in Bozeman, which Bullock visited yesterday, has scorched 8,224 acres and is now 52 percent contained. The fire destroyed 28 residences and an unknown number of outbuildings.

“In times like this, I think it’s also really important that we look for the bright spots,” Bullock said. “I think of the firefighters, law enforcement, and local and state and federal partners who came together working night and day to protect Montanans from wildfire and save lives. I think of the three DNRC firefighters who on the same day that our flags were lowered half staff after losing Bozeman firefighter Tom Duffy, they had to deploy their fire shelters and were fortunately about to return home to their families.”

“This was the first time we’ve had to deploy fire shelters in 50 years,” Bullock said.

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