Montana Public Radio

Montana Nurses Call For Expanded Closures To Slow Coronavirus

Mar 23, 2020

The Montana Nurses Association says it’s time for bold measures to defend against the growing COVID-19 crisis. The organization’s CEO, Vicky Byrd, penned an open letter to Gov. Steve Bullock Friday asking him to order Montanans to stay home. The group also wants the state to close all non-essential businesses until further notice.

The MNA’s 3,000 members are working on the front lines of the pandemic. Byrd tells reporter Edward O’Brien that while the state’s doing a very good overall job of handling the crisis, a shelter-in-place order is needed. 

Vicky Byrd We know that this is quite virulent and so infectious. And the one thing that we know can mitigate how many people get infected and how many people end up in the hospital and on ventilators and die, is that if we do social distancing, we know it's the one thing that will take care of this virus is if we don't spread it to anybody any further. So we have a unique opportunity to jump way ahead and not wait till it skyrockets where we have to call in the National Guard. By then, it's too late.

Edward O'Brien How long would Montanans need to self-quarantine in order for it to be effective? To be of any use?

Byrd Some are saying anywhere from 15 days. But we can see that that's not holding or really helping or mitigating it. Let's look forward to what we can do to track the data. And once we see this spike, then start coming down. Then you start allowing the people back out and back to work. It's going to be life changing. And we and we get that. But you know what? I think we could take the jump forward and just ask everybody to shelter in place and let's take care of each other here in our beautiful state of Montana.

O'Brien Any word back from the administration?

Byrd Nope, we haven't heard back from anyone.

O'Brien Everybody's always asking this, I may as well join the fray. Is there enough testing so far?

Byrd Absolutely not. And we know that from state to state, you know, people being turned away unless you're in the hospital or definitely ill. We definitely need more testing. And for our nurses and health care workers on those front lines, we definitely need more PPE. The personal protective equipment, homemade masks are not going to do it.

O'Brien The state says it's doing enough. So then what's what's the point of disagreement? Why not let this thing right now just play itself out?

Byrd Well, here's a really good example. Washington State just on March 10th, they had 276 cases and they had 26 deaths. Now on March 22nd, 1,996 cases and 95 deaths. Let's jump ahead of the curve before Montanans starts mirroring these other states that are now calling out national disasters. And Washington State is now one of them. We just want to prevent as much of that mitigation as we can.

O'Brien Who would you consider essential workers who should be allowed to keep going to work?

Byrd Well, of course, essential workers are our health care, right.? You know, it's it's a tough call. I believe there's definitions on shelter in place and essential workers. So I guess I would just embrace what those are. And I don't have it right in front of me. But the businesses that can provide takeout food, grocery stores, pharmacies, you know, all of that, what we've heard on the press we would, we would support that.

O'Brien Are Montanans taking this seriously enough? And I'm going to sound like a grumpy grandpa when I say this, but this weekend in Missoula it was absolutely beautiful, and I saw young people hanging out in groups, playing Frisbee, enjoying a few beers in the backyard. What sort of risk are they putting themselves in, not to mention the entire community? I get the sense younger people think this is an old person problem.

Byrd And that's where we really have to educate and inform them that social distancing is going to be what saves your father or your grandfather, your mother or your grandmother, maybe even your brothers and sisters; because now we know, yes, it's a very, very hard for those 60 and over. But that young age group is definitely being impacted by this. And how do we how do we get them to wrap their hands around that? I know it is all about them, but they're really good at social media. So you know what? Start zooming and Skyping and if you're going to be around each other, stay six feet apart, sit around on chairs and visit or be in the park, but don't go by each other, have good hand-washing. Now.

O'Brien Vicky Byrd, CEO of the Montana Nurses Association, thank you.