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Montana National Guard screening Amtrak passengers in Havre


Last updated 4/10/2020 at 11:44am

Havre Daily News/Jack Lambert

Members of the Montana National Guard watch as passengers get back on the train after getting out for a breath of fresh air Thursday at the Havre Amtrak station. The Montana National Guard has been screening passengers on the train from out of state to stop, slow and mitigate the spread of COVID-19. They also recommend people to self-quarantine for 14 days if they are coming in from out-of-state, as per Gov. Steve Bullock's directive for people coming into state for non-work-related purposes that also authorized the National Guard screenings.

Montana National Guard soldiers are working at the Havre Amtrak station, following a directive from Gov. Steve Bullock to screen people coming into the state for symptoms and contact history of COVID-19.

Liaison Officer Capt. John MacNeal is one of four Montana National Guard members who are screening people at the Amtrak station in Havre.

"So we're asking a series of questions and then taking people's temperature just to check for possible exposure," he said. 

He said if people answer all the questions with a negative response and have a normal temperature, the National Guard advises them on the governor's stay-at-home order, but if people have a high temperature and have "likely risk factors" then they are put in contact with a medical professional for further advice.

The biggest thing, he added, is he wants to stress that this protocol is Montanans helping Montanans.

"We're just trying to slow the spread of the virus," MacNeal said. 

MacNeal said the screenings are voluntary, so people can opt to not be screened.

"We don't know how long we will be doing this," he added. "... We are going to follow the governor's advice, and I'm sure he's got very specialized public health people who came up with these locations."

Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services Director Sheila Hogan said the efforts by the Guard cold help slow down the spread of the disease.

"Department of Public Health and Human Service appreciates the important role the Montana National Guard has taken on to help curb the spread of COVID-19," she said. "It's efforts such as this that will be vital in helping us flatten the curve and protect our health care workers, patients, friends and families."

In a directive issued March 30, Bullock directed people coming in from out-of-state to go into a 14-day quarantine and also authorized the Montana Army and Air National Guard to screen people coming into major airports and rail stations to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"Seventy-three Montana Army and Air National Guard men and women have been activated for State Active Duty by Montana Governor Steve Bullock in response to COVID-19,"  the Montana National Guard Public Affairs Office press release said. "The soldiers and airmen will be used in 11 cities and 17 locations."

The release said screening will include all arriving passengers at the airport terminals in Bozeman, Billings, Kalispell, Missoula, Helena, Great Falls and Butte and train stations screenings are in Whitefish, Havre, Shelby and Wolf Point.

Each location will have a Montana National Guard liaison officer, the release said, who will be working with the local disaster and emergency services representatives, public health officials, airport management as well as the transportation safety administration officials.

Amtrak Government Affairs and  Corporate Communications Public Relations Manager Marc Magliari said Amtrak has not adjusted its schedule for the Empire Builder, its train that runs through Havre from Chicago to Seattle and Portland and back, adding that ridership on The Empire Builder and for Amtrak in general has gone down steeply, and fewer cars are on the trains running.

"The trains have been shorted to account for reduced ridership. Social distancing space is maintained by limiting sales," he said.

As an added measure to increase safety, the passenger rail service is not accepting cash for payments in trains and stations.

"We have temporarily gone cashless," Magliari said. "Work-arounds include purchasing Amtrak gift cards or customers purchasing pre-loaded credit cards accepted at all our stations or online."

Amtrak's website says it is taking  more steps to sanitize stations and trains such as: 

• Enhancing cleaning protocols: It has increased the frequency of cleaning services onboard trains and at our stations. 

• Increasing disinfectant supplies: It has increased the quantity of sanitizers and disinfectant wipes available for customers and employees onboard trains and at its stations. 

• Reinforcing good hygiene practices: It regularly shares best practices with employees and customers on ways to protect against communicable diseases.

• Limiting bookings: To help maintain Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for social distancing onboard the trains, it is temporarily reducing coach class and business class sales to 50 percent capacity.

Havre Daily News/Jack Lambert

For more information, visit https://media.amtrak.com/2020/04/amtrak-takes-active-measures-to-maintain-safe-environment .

And the mobilization of the Guard for screening won't be charged to the state. A press release from the Governor's Office said President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that Montana and other states will receive full funding under the Stafford Act from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover costs from using National Guard forces to prevent, mitigate, and respond to the threat posed by COVID-19.

Bullock and members of Montana's congressional delegation urged the president to authorize the payments to cover National Guard expenses during the COVID-19 pandemic.


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