By A.J. Etherington
The Courier 

County Declares State of Emergency, City Set to Meet on March 19


March 18, 2020

The County has declared a State of Emergency in Valley County as of March 17. The action comes after Governor Steve Bullock and President Donald Trump issued state and nationwide emergencies from the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic that has spread to all 50 states and a few territories. In Montana there are, as of March 18, 11 presumptive cases, mostly in major cities across the state.

Nonetheless, schools and nursing homes have closed for a couple of weeks while businesses and local government have taken precautions to slow the spread of the disease in the county. With the declaration, the county commissioners stated, “[T]he county has committed all available resources to mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on Valley County residents and taken all possible action to combat and to alleviate the situation and local resources will not be adequate to cope with the situation.”

The City Council has scheduled an emergency meeting at 3 p.m. on March 19, to decide on their own emergency declaration. If passed, that disaster declaration would give the mayor and police department the future ability to enforce potential quarantine efforts the City-County Health Department deems necessary. It will also limit the city government's operations to legally required actions and will move board meetings to digital formats.

In a statement, Mayor of Glasgow Becky Erickson stated, “Information is rapidly changing, and we are working to quickly identify how we can support our employees and their families who have essential service duties and keep our community safe.”

As of March 18, neither the City of Glasgow or the County Commissioners have ordered that bars, restaurants, food courts or similar venues where crowds gather should close. Currently the County Sanitarian and the County's Medical Expert Dr. Anne Millard are considering the option but have not made a decision. In remarks to the Courier on March 16, Commissioner Mary Armstrong said that the county did recommend that people and businesses follow the federal government's recommendations and avoid crowds and gathering places.

Many businesses have taken precautions on their own and have implemented take out or delivery services across the county, while remaining open to the public. Some have decided to limit crowd size and take extra precautions with sanitizing dining areas. All entities are recommending that people who are ill with any disease should stay home.

The county's declaration will allow local businesses to apply for Small Business Administration loans and receive funding for disaster relief if deemed necessary. At the state level, releases from the Governor's office have promoted efforts to get SBA funding out to state businesses and alleviate unemployment filing penalties against employers, while waiving waiting periods for laid off employees.

The resolution (No. 10-2020) will also make obtaining unemployment benefits easier for laid off workers. The Governor's office said they will waive the one week waiting period to receive compensation as a result of the virus.

“We are monitoring the impacts of coronavirus in real time – both from a public health perspective and an economic health perspective,” Governor Bullock said. “Ensuring that small businesses in Montana have access to capital and resources that will allow them to weather temporary closures and bounce back from critical quarantine efforts is paramount to my administration.”

The rules allow a claimant directed by their employer to leave work or not report to work due to COVID-19 to qualify as being temporarily laid off by the employer and become eligible for benefits. Workers who must quarantine or who need to take care of a family member due to COVID-19 are also considered temporarily laid off and eligible for benefits.

The release also highlighted the fact that Montana employers will also receive help through these rules. Individual claims will not be chargeable to a specific employer’s account. The rules also include a provision that could extend the time employers have to file wage reports and pay unemployment insurance contributions if the delay is related to COVID-19.

The Governor's office also stated in a press release that: “Businesses are now eligible to apply for up to $2 million in 30-year loans with an interest rate of 3.75 percent. The SBA determines eligibility based on the size of the applicant, type of activity and its financial resources. Loan amounts and terms are set by the SBA and are based on each applicant’s financial condition. These working capital loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable, and other bills that could have been paid had the disaster not occurred. The loans are not intended to replace lost sales or profits.”

According to the Center for Disease Control, there are 7,038 and 97 deaths in the United States as of March, 18 at noon Eastern Time.


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