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HELENA — More than three hundred Montana citizens and multiple Republican candidates for statewide office gathered at the state Capitol in Helena on Sunday, flouting federal, state, and public health agency social distancing recommendations to express a range of opinions centered on the belief that it’s time for state directives closing schools and businesses to end.
Similar protests in recent days have occurred in Colorado, Ohio, Kentucky, North Carolina, Utah, Indiana, Texas, and other states.
The rally, organized on Facebook, began around 1 p.m. and featured no speakers or public pronouncements. It was an opportunity, rather, for a quiet if vibrant public demonstration of pushback against directives issued by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock designed to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. As of Sunday morning, the state reported having tested almost 11,000 people for the disease, with 433 confirmed cases and 10 deaths attributed to the virus.
Bullock initially closed Montana schools March 16, and on March 20 directed the closure of bars, gyms, theaters and other businesses where people gather. On March 26, Bullock directed Montanans to “stay at home” and closed all “nonessential” business activity. That directive also prohibited all public and private gatherings of any number of people occurring outside a household or place of residence. The closures were later extended, and are currently set to expire April 24.
Brad Tyer manages the MTFP newsroom and coordinates freelance reporters, special projects and collaborations. He edited the Missoula Independent from 2002 to 2007 and 2016 to 2018. He's also done two stints as managing editor of the Texas Observer in Austin, and has freelanced widely. Contact Brad at firstname.lastname@example.org or 406-465-3386 ext. 1.