Traffic got a little busier along Main Street, but otherwise, it was hard to tell that coronavirus restrictions were ending in the tiny Montana town of Roundup.
That’s because it’s largely business as usual in the town of 1,800 people. Nonessential stores could reopen as a statewide shutdown ended this week, but most shops in Roundup — the pharmacy, the hardware store, two small grocers — were essential and never closed.
A florist and a thrift shop reopened Monday, apparently two of the only stores that had to shut down at all. Bars and restaurants remain shuttered and getting takeout is still the only option until May 4, when they can open with restrictions.
Parts of the U.S. are starting to lift closures, and some of the quickest to do so have been rural states like Montana, Vermont and Alaska. The effects of the pandemic in small towns can seem a world away from cities grappling with overwhelmed hospitals, packed morgues and economies pushed to the brink.
The consequences of easing restrictions in rural communities won’t be fully known for some time, and health officials said they will be watching for a resurgence of infections.
But for now, there’s little doubt in places like Roundup that it was the right thing to do after weekslong stay-at-home orders.
“We don’t have the fear of the virus. It’s been more concern about our shut-ins and older people who can’t come out,” said Shannon Thompson, who works in the deli at Picchioni’s IGA supermarket and has two sons home with school still canceled.
The coronavirus is largely a distant threat that so far has touched few people here directly. Face masks are a novelty, and greetings often still come with a handshake.
Despite some grumbling that the lockdown was too harsh, most people cooperated, county commissioner Adam Carlson said.
Thompson said she practices social distancing and “we’re all doing what we’re supposed to do.”
By contrast, in some rural parts of states where stay-at-home orders remain in place, local leaders have pledged defiance. The mayor of Grants, New Mexico, population 9,000, led a rally Monday where dozens urged nonessential businesses to reopen.
Only a fraction of people in the state have been infected by COVID-19, and it doesn’t make sense to keep small businesses closed, Mayor Martin “Modey” Hicks said. New Mexico has almost 3,000 confirmed cases of the virus and 110 deaths.
“The governor is killing the state over a little bug,” he said before heading to the city-owned golf course, where about 20 people were playing despite a warning by state police for the facility to close.
For most, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older people and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.