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Bullock extends stay-at-home deadline to April 24

Governor announces directive extensions and new directives in press conference call

 


In a press conference call Tuesday Gov. Steve Bullock announced that he will be extending the stay-at-home directive through April 24.

He also announced that the directives closing all non-residential public schools and restricting on-premise food and beverage businesses will be extended through the same date.

The directive establishing a mandatory quarantine for certain people arriving in Montana from another state or country, as well as one suspending eviction, foreclosures and the cancelation of utilities will be extended through that same date.

Bullock said these directives are being extended in order to give health care facilities the time they need to obtain equipment they need before Montana reaches its peak of COVID-19 cases.

“For every person who stays at home, the better our chances to fight this virus and protect our health care workers,” Bullock said, “For every person that we take out of the chain of transmission, the more likely that our health care facilities can handle the capacity to respond, the more likely it becomes that we can beat back this virus sooner rather than later.”

He said as of last night, there have been 319 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Montana, with six deaths, Bullock said and 57 patients have recovered.

“Today, we anticipate our state lab will test in excess of 400 Montanans,” he added.

He said Montana has the chance to avoid the kind of spread seen in higher population areas across the U.S.

“We don’t have to become like New York, Louisiana or Idaho, and I will do everything I possibly can to make sure that that doesn’t happen on my watch,” Bullock said.

He said he is aware that this time of social distancing has put many small businesses in precarious situations, but he said he believes these measures are necessary not just of the sake of peoples’ health, but the health of the economy at large.

“It’s not a choice between a healthy population and a healthy economy, the two go hand-in-hand,” Bullock said.

He said the state has been working to improve the process of filing for unemployment benefits in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. He added that from March 29 through April 5, the state issued more than 24,000 payments to Montanans whose jobs have been affected by COVID-19.

Bullock said Montana is facing many of the same challenges as other states in terms of medical equipment shortages. He said the state is conducting surveys of health care facilities and have found that two thirds of them have had orders of medical supplies canceled since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“Montana has received five times more masks, N95 masks, from our friends to the east, North Dakota, than we have from our federal partners,” Bullock said.

He said the state’s stock of gowns and gloves is adequate, but more will likely be needed as the situation progresses.

Bullock said Montana has put in orders for and is waiting on orders of more than 1,000,000 masks among other supplies from the private sector. He said he is hoping some of that supplies will arrive by the end of the week, but he is not counting on it until he sees that it has been received.

He recommended that everyone continue to follow social distancing guidelines, and that people start wearing cloth masks in public places like grocery stores and pharmacies in line with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. He added that members of the public shouldn’t wear surgical masks or N95 and should instead give them to first responders and health care workers who need them more.

“These steps may seem extreme,” Bullock said, “In a state like Montana they may seem too cautious… but we must not forget that here in Montana we face some unique challenges.”

He said despite the relatively small and sparse population of Montana, the state has seen some of the challenges rural communities can face.

“It’s easy to look at the map of COVID-19 cases and see that many central and eastern Montana counties don’t yet have a positive case,” he said, “While that seems like a bright spot, and it is, also recognize that an outbreak in a rural community could easily overwhelm a local health care facility.”

He said the state was informed of a case in a long-term care center in Toole County on the evening of March 25. Local public health and their partners worked to find other possible cases and close contacts to prevent the further spread of the virus. Preventative protocols were put in place at the retired living facility and the local hospital.

Toole County now has 20 cases associated with that event. All residents in the long-term living facility are under quarantine, including three individuals who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 who are in isolation, and one who is no longer in isolation.

Bullock said an Incident Command Structure has been established in Glacier, Toole and Pondera counties. Bob Sandman, a former Forestry Pioneer of the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation who was also the head of a Type-1 firefighting crew is acting as the local incident commander.

Bullock also announced two more directives. The first waives the requirement that county and local governments institute a two-mill emergency levee to gain access to new funding from the federal CARES Act.

“It’s a simple fix that makes sense,” he said. “… They (county and local governments) shouldn’t be forced to levee additional taxes on Montanans to access emergency funding passed by Congress.”

The second directive provides the necessary clarification that allows all first responders to be notified before they come into contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Bullock said Montanans need to continue thinking about the safety of their neighbors for as long as the pandemic persists.

“I am daily reminded that we are in this together, and we’ll get through it together,” he said.

Bullock was asked about the possibility of a statewide curfew.

He said he believe Montanans, by and large, are taking the situation seriously enough that such a curfew is unnecessary and is not under consideration.

In response to a question about whether law enforcement throughout the state should be enforcing restrictions on social gatherings that violate CDC guidelines on social distancing, Bullock said, he would prefer if local authorities didn’t have to get involved.

“What I would recommend is Montanans not allow it to get to a point where local law enforcement would have to intervene,” he said.

Bullock turned a question about how COVID-19 was affecting reservations in Montana over the State Medical Officer Gregory Holzman.

“There have been no cases associated directly with the tribal reservations at this time,” Holzman said, though he added that 3.5 percent of people who tested positive COVID-19 cases were Native American.

 

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