Gov. Bullock

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock on March 12 announced an executive order declaring a state of emergency in Montana in response to the coronavirus.

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Montana residents will likely be ordered to stay home at least through April 24, Gov. Steve Bullock said Friday.

Bullock announced the likely extension to his stay-at-home order — initially set to end April 10 — during a press conference.

He said the order’s specifics will be announced early next week and future extensions will likely come in two-week timeframes, adding he doesn’t want to try to predict conditions in Montana further down the line.

“Staying at home and even taking one Montanan out of the chain of transmission can be a life-saving act, for your neighbors for your grandparents, for your friends, for our health care providers, our first responders and our law enforcement,” Bullock said.

Roughly 10% of the state’s diagnosed coronavirus cases are among health care workers, he said. The state had 262 confirmed cases as of Friday afternoon.

Infectious disease specialists have said there’s no age group immune to the illness, though its chance of causing serious complications is higher for those with an already weak immune system and seniors.

In Montana counties known as hotbeds for the disease, a majority of the people diagnosed are younger than 60.

Of the 101 people who had tested positive for COVID-19 in Gallatin County as of Friday afternoon, more than 70 were younger than 60. Local county health officials and providers have said they don’t know why that is and whether it reflects reality. However, the county does have a younger population than most in the state.

In Yellowstone County — which has the second highest number of cases in Montana — 31 of the area’s 38 known COVID-19 patients are younger than 60.

As researchers continue to try and understand this virus, health experts continue to say that if people keep a distance from one another, it’s less likely to spread.

“I can’t stress enough that the steps every Montanan takes now and in the following weeks will make all the difference in managing through this health crisis,” Bullock said.

Under the order, people are allowed to leave home to get necessities like food, to access medical care and to go outside. That’s as long as they stay at least 6 feet away from others.

There are also other exceptions for services the government deemed essential, such as construction, grocery stores, gas stations and places offering deliveries or takeout.

Bullock also announced Friday extensions to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which allows people to access food stamps.

“No Montanan should have to worry about putting food on the table for themselves or their families, especially during a global pandemic,” Bullock said.

Since large gathering spots like movie theaters, restaurants, and many shops have been forced to close to the public, thousands of Montana workers are without a job.

Bullock said the state will double its supply of food commodities from the federal government to send to providers like food banks, senior centers and tribal facilities.

The state will waive one-on-one interview requirements for people to qualify for food stamps and automatically renew anyone in the program for 12 months if their benefits are set to expire during the pandemic. That extension is estimated to impact more than 100,000 people in Montana.

The state requested additional benefits from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for April and May so that more than 52,000 households in Montana can receive the maximum available food assistance.

New mothers trying to access the Women’s Infant and Children’s Program will also soon be able to get services online or over the phone. They’ll also be able to supplement some food bought through the stamps if stores run out, like substituting whole or skim milk if 2% milk runs out.

Bullock said the changes will go into place in the coming days and weeks.

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Katheryn Houghton can be reached at khoughton@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.