We’ve asked reporters in communities around the state to file stories about how their towns are responding to the emerging presence of coronavirus. We’ll be publishing them in this space as they come in. News is changing fast during this ongoing story. These reports are necessarily snapshots in time. They may become outdated quickly. This piece was reported on Friday, March 13, and published Saturday, March 14.
GREAT FALLS — Activities and events are being canceled or postponed throughout Cascade County in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.
On Friday afternoon, March 13, Malmstrom Air Force Base declared a public health emergency.
In a release from Malmstrom, Col. Jennifer K. Reeves said, “I have been notified by my Public Health Emergency Officer of a public health situation on our installation involving COVID-19 that requires immediate action. Based on the PHEO’s recommendation and the results of a preliminary investigation, I am declaring a public health emergency.”
Later reports clarified that a person on the base had been tested for the virus after close contact with a confirmed case, and is awaiting the results.
“The risk to the base population remains low, but it still exists and that’s why preventive measures such as washing hands frequently and practicing good hygiene are critical to the success of our efforts at protection,” Reeves said in the release.
The declaration of a public health emergency enables base leaders to take actions that promote force protection, such as closing base facilities, limiting non-mission essential activities, restricting movement, or implementing quarantine or isolation for select individuals. The declaration is in effect for 30 days unless otherwise terminated or extended.
Earlier in the week, Great Falls College MSU announced it would extend spring break by a week to allow faculty to prepare to teach classes online in the event of an outbreak. The college’s Lifelong Learning program has canceled or postponed all classes, since most of its programs can’t be taught online.
Great Falls Public Schools announced March 13 that effective immediately, all after-school and weekend activities are postponed or canceled through March 27.
Downtown businesses are still seeing activity. Thad Reiste, co-owner of Electric City Coffee, said that Thursday afternoon business slowed when the stock market crashed. But he said the shop had broken its sales goal for Friday by early afternoon.
He said he’s been visiting with customers and thanking them for coming in.
“I think people here are taking it in stride and not panicking. They’re still going out to eat and doing stuff, Reiste said.
Sandra Thares, owner of the Heritage Inn and Sip ’n Dip Lounge, said her hotel saw 65% reservation cancellations heading into Western Art Week, March 18-22. The C.M. Russell Museum canceled its Western Art Week events, but other Art Week shows are continuing as planned.
She said that her hotel lost 103 room reservation nights on Friday, and $30,000 worth of catering contracts over the next four weeks. She suggested that the lodging and hospitality associations ask the governor to postpone bed tax payments for a month or two without penalty.
“Canceled sports means lost team revenue. Canceled tours means lost revenue. … The hotel industry will be forced to reinvent themselves in the next few weeks. It will be interesting to watch,” Thares said.