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Across southwest Montana, local governments are declaring a state of emergency in response to the novel coronavirus.

Bozeman, Belgrade and West Yellowstone have all passed resolutions creating a state of emergency. The Gallatin County Commission also declared a state of emergency for unincorporated portions of the county. The city of Three Forks was set to vote on a declaration Wednesday evening, and Manhattan plans to do the same at a meeting Thursday.

Patrick Lonergan, the emergency management chief for Gallatin County, said the declarations are a sign that local governments are taking the virus, COVID-19, seriously. He said it also means a few changes to the government structure.

In general, a declaration lets officials enact the Gallatin County Emergency Management Plan, which details how local governments coordinate their response, allows staff to take on new job responsibilities and details how volunteers and donations will be handled. It also could help local governments receive state and federal money.

“We don’t know what this will bring in the future,” Lonergan said.

“There is also the significant possibility that if this gets significantly worse in our community, we may very well overwhelm our system capacity to respond and support our community.”

Gallatin County is not closing the courthouse at 311 West Main St., at this time. However, county officials are exploring possible closures.

The county has scheduled daily meetings on COVID-19 to give staff time to collaborate and provide updates.

“I think with the information we have now, this is the prudent thing to do,” commissioner Joe Skinner said before passing the county’s declaration on Wednesday morning. “It’s uncertain times. We may all be overreacting, but we don’t know that, so this is an appropriate action.”

The Gallatin City-County Health Department is leading the response to COVID-19 through a multi-agency incident command team that includes health, school and local government officials.

The city of Bozeman’s declaration means it will halt nonessential services and continue to work with other agencies to respond to the novel coronavirus pandemic. City commissioners unanimously passed the declaration Wednesday morning.

City services that officials deemed critical to “public health, safety and general welfare” will continue, like law enforcement and other first responders.

Essential services also include municipal court, trash collection, building inspections, water treatment facilities as well as some street maintenance, according to the city’s declaration.

Bozeman Fire Chief Josh Waldo said the declaration formalizes steps the city is already taking. He said it’s important that the declaration opens the city up to request federal funding or equipment, adding, “we will incur costs as we go through this process.”

The declaration gives more power to Bozeman’s interim city manager Dennis Taylor to make decisions without a commission vote, such as scheduling meetings.

City commissioners are scheduled to meet on Monday with an agenda that will focus on what needs to happen during the state of emergency. Commissioners could meet remotely.

Mayor Chris Mehl said he knows the virus is disrupting people’s lives.

“None of us sought to be in this situation, but from a small store to a large institution like the city, we are all doing our part to try and practice that social distancing, asking people to stay at home, wash their hands, take care of themselves,” Mehl said.

The local decisions follow Montana Gov. Steve Bullock’s statewide declaration of emergency March 12. President Donald Trump issued a nationwide state of emergency the following day.

Websites for the county and each city have more information on operations, including specific department hours, parks and recreation facility closures and changes to library services.

People in Gallatin County with questions on how the virus spreads and what to do if they have symptoms can call 406-548-0123.

Other counties and cities are working toward declarations of emergency. The city of Livingston passed a resolution creating a state of emergency on Wednesday. Park County commissioners will consider a similar resolution on Thursday.

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Perrin Stein can be reached at or at 582-2648. Katheryn Houghton can be reached at or at 582-2628.

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