Several ski resorts across Montana announced plans Sunday for the remainder of their seasons as concerns about the spread of COVID-19 continue to grow in the United States.
At least two ski resorts opted to close for the remainder of the season. Others closed have announced a week-long closure, and some are planning for no closure at all.
In Carbon County, Red Lodge Mountain announced it would be suspending operations for a week as it continues to assess its plans for the remainder of the season.
In a press release announcing its decision, Red Lodge Mountain cited public health and safety concerns for staff, guests and the community, related to COVID-19.
The decision to suspend operations was made with guidance from health officials, the release says.
The decision by Red Lodge Mountain echoes that of Big Sky Resort, which also announced a week-long suspension beginning Sunday. Other ski hills and resorts in Montana have also closed, in some cases for the remainder of the season.
Bridger Bowl in Bozeman announced Sunday it would be closing for the remainder of the season due to COVID-19 concerns. Whitefish Mountain Resort in the Flathead Valley also announced that Sunday would be its last day of the season, also due to COVID-19 concerns.
Not all Montana ski areas have followed suite. Discovery Ski Area in Philipsburg and Showdown Ski Area in central Montana posted messages Sunday saying they intended to remain open until April 5. Discovery pledged to double cleaning schedules for certain parts of its operation and encouraged people to maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet in food, beverage and lift lines, and to stay home if they are feeling sick.
Snowbowl in Missoula said it is staying open, although it had already planned for Monday to be its last open Monday of the month, and Snowbowl traditionally closes on Tuesdays throughout March. At this point, its planned last day of operation is Sunday, April 5, said Snowbowl's Ronnie Moris.
Montana is not alone in seeing some of its ski resorts close. In Colorado, the governor on Saturday ordered all downhill skiing operations to close for a week due to COVID-19 concerns.
The closures affect more than just direct skiing operations. For Red Lodge Mountain, lift operations, food and beverage, mountain retail, repair and rental shops were all included in the closure. Scheduled employees, both season and year-round would be paid during the week-long closure.
The Whitefish closure will also affect a variety of other operations related to the ski hill.
"In addition to on-mountain operations, all restaurants, rental and retail shops will be closed. All events planned for the remainder of the season have been cancelled," the resort announced in a message posted to its website.
In response to the closure, Red Lodge Mountain also announced it has "relaxed" its cancellation and refund policy.
"We have relaxed our cancellation and refund policy and future lift ticket arrivals from March 16 2020 through March 22, 2020 will automatically be refunded. People are encouraged to visit the Red Lodge Mountain website for more info."
The press release requests people be patient, saying they are anticipating a high volume of calls in the coming days related to the closure. Other ski resorts also addressed their refund policies in announcements posted to their websites.
There are currently six confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Montana. Among those with the illness is Clayton Christian, Montana's commissioner of higher education. It's believed Christian got the virus at a March 5 Montana Board of Regents Meeting in Dillon that was attended by dozens of people.
Other cases include: a man in his 40s from Gallatin County; a man in his 50s from Broadwater County who sought treatment in Lewis and Clark County; a Yellowstone County woman in her 50s; and a Butte-Silver Bow County man in his 50s.
COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets and person-to-person contact. Experts believe a person can have the disease and spread it without showing symptoms, but symptomatic people are also highly contagious. Symptoms include fever, cough and difficulty breathing.
COVID-19 can attack the lungs and in severe cases can damage them to the point where oxygen flow becomes so impaired that people are unable to breathe due to the accumulation of fluid, pus and dead cells in their lungs.
Some have mistakenly compared COVID-19 to the flu. That is a dangerous misconception. It is 10 times deadlier than the flu, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The disease has spread so rapidly in Italy that it has overwhelmed the nation's healthcare system.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people stay home when they are sick, wash hands often with soap and water, avoid close contact with people who are sick and clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
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