Schools, Restaurants, Bars, Casinos Shut Down

Wholesale closure called for to prevent widespread travel of Coronavirus
Alastair Baker
News Editor
Wednesday, March 18, 2020
Article Image Alt Text

Photo by Alastair Baker
St. Patrick’s Day evening in Red Lodge; normally a busy and boisterous time silenced this year by a Pandemic outbreak.

As news of Coronavirus cases hit Yellowstone County and Missoula, authorities in Carbon County have moved swiftly in an attempt to prevent the disease from coming any nearer. 

The Carbon County Board of Health, via Public Health Officer (PHO), William George, MD, and in coordination with the Carbon County COVID-19 Incident Management Team, issued an order effective 5 p.m., March 17, that all Carbon County, restaurant dining rooms, bars, tap rooms, coffee shops and casinos will be closed. Drive through, delivery or take-out/pick-up service for food or beverage are not restricted under this order. 

The order follows quickly on the heels of Montana Governor Steve Bullock’s directive on Monday to close all schools from K-12 for two weeks.

The order covering restaurants, bars and casinos will be in effect for one week, and will be reviewed on a weekly basis. That timeline could change as officials learn more about how widespread COVID-19 is locally, and in coordination with Yellowstone County health officials.

Any violation of these measures will be classified as a misdemeanor and carry fines of between $10-$100.

According to Dr. George, “The team based this difficult decision on consultations with area healthcare providers, review of international data as well as national disease prevention guidelines. We have given much thought to how this will impact the business owners, employees and community members and fully understand the depth of the economic impact and inconvenience this order brings.”

“We feel this decision offers the best opportunity to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for community members and visitors,” said George. “The Carbon County Board of Health, through the Public Health Officer, has the legal duty to protect citizens from the introduction and spread of communicable disease." Dr. George emphasized, “This is a vital step in stopping the spread of COVID-19.”

Dr. George commented there was “no choice” but to follow this path. 

The Carbon County COVID-19 Incident Management Team also called a press briefing Tuesday to update the public on the present situation. 

Speaking at the briefing Carbon County Commissioner Bill Bullock announced that the Commissioners had passed a resolution declaring a Carbon County Public Health Emergency.  

In effect, this will mean the County will commit all available resources and will take all possible action to combat and to alleviate the situation to help financially support the medical services within the county. 

“What this does it releases emergency funds and by accessing these it opens the door to access some of that greater Federal relief funds,” said Bullock.

Red Lodge Mayor Bill Larson said the merchants and restaurant owners had taken the news of the shut down “well”, realizing there were going to be some restrictions. 

“As I talked to them this morning some of them were instantly closing down, others preparing for take out or street pick ups. It was unique talking to some of the merchants as some of the retails stores are going to shut down for two weeks on their own,” said Larson. 

“We thank all the retail people and merchants in Red Lodge for helping us through this part. Please continue to support our local businesses through delivery and take out that still allows for social distancing. Check on your families, friends and neighbors,” Larson said. 

Amy Hyfield, SAR Officer with Red Lodge Fire, noticed that gyms, convenience stores and hotels were not on the list. 

“I can’t imagine them not being added to the list in the near future,” said Dr. George.  He explained that the decision was based on what other cities were doing by starting with the most high-risk areas like restaurants and bars. 

The question of how this could impact Red Lodge’s tourist trade was raised to which Mayor Larson said the City will need to look at how it will affect the Resort Tax.

“This is normally a slack time of the season and with all of us working together we can take care of this sooner,” he said.

Concerning hospital testing of patients, Dr. George confirmed that 

“Any testing by the State is all paid for. There no cost to patients.” 

Hyfield asked what was being done to lower the curb and implement restrictions to help with the health care capacity and prevent an influx of people who need healthcare into our facilities? 

“The capacity to do testing is driven by how many tests is released by the state and our capacity to do testing at this moment is roughly 25,” said Kelley Evans, Beartooth Billings Clinic CEO. 

“Eligibility to do a testing is a screening criteria that can be done on the phone. We encourage that,” said Evans. “If you come to the hospital we have a special screening area set up, we will triage you before you enter the building. If you meet the criteria, a physician will order the tests, then there is consultation with the State of Montana who then concurs and a swab is taken and the test is sent to Helena.”  

“The capacity for that is completely dependent on the number of tests we have available and as soon as we have more tests available we will be letting the general public know that. The CDC and State department are holding a position that all tests go through a provider after symptoms. So we’re not set up in either Carbon County and Yellowstone County to move to a self referral basis, this all has to be preceded by a screening,” said Evans.

Regarding in patient capacity Evans said a patient who might be in respiratory distress will be taken into an isolation room, tested and wait for the results.

“They would stay in full isolation in that time. Because of how the facility was designed, we have capacity to expand our negative pressure rooms to beyond that of the first room that was set up,” said Evans. 

The clinic has 10 acute care beds and have in the last 48 hours started to ramp back scheduled services that could be delayed such as speech and physical therapy.  

“Regardless of how much bed space or whether we set up a second receiving center, this will be driven by the staffing capitabilites we have,” she said. 



All hospital staff has been 100 percent tested and are “in good shape,” said Evans.

“As of 8 a.m. March 17 there are no confirmed cases of COVID 19 in Carbon County but we are testing,” said Margaret Karas, Public Information Officer with the Carbon County COVID-19 Incident Management Team. “As of March 16 at 7:22 p.m., Montana reported 9 persons with positive COVID-19 test results. One case reported to date is a part-time Montana resident with no documented exposures or close contacts in Montana, and was not tested in Montana.” 

Both Bullock and Larson reiterated the need for communities to support each other.

“We live in a special community. We are privileged to be in the place we are. We count on our neighbors, ranching and farming families, in town families. There is connectivity; everyone will have to lean on each other. This is survivable. I think we are a strong community. We’ve proved it time and again and we can do it again,” said Bullock. 

“Please check on your neighbors and your families. Let’s work together to reduce the impact of this public health crisis,” said Larson. 

All emergency services are still operational. Both the Sheriff’s Department and City Police will continue working and both District and City Courts will be open. 

All City Halls are now closed to the public but still operational. The County building will be open with limited staffing.