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Bullock: State could start re-opening if cases stay down


April 20, 2020

Gov. Steve Bullock announced Friday that if the rate of COVID-19 confirmations stays low or decreases, the state could start a phased re-opening next week.

He said the actions taken including his stay-at-home directive, set to expire Friday, have helped reduce the spread of the virus.

“When this virus came to Montana, we took quick and aggressive measures to slow the spread and keep Montanans home during this critical period. We bought time for our health care workers and our first responders on the front lines, and we kept hospitals especially in our rural areas from becoming overwhelmed,” he said. “We’ve worked to protect our vulnerable populations and to remove as many people from a chain of transmission as possible to reduce infections, but also to save lives. We have flattened the curve. We have saved lives.”

He said that as of Friday’s press conference, Montana had 422 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with an estimated 233 patients who have recovered, 21 recovered hospitalizations and nine Montanas have died, he said.

“Each and every one of those losses weighs heavily on me not just as a governor and a public servant, but also as a father and as a son,” he added. “And I know that they weigh heavily on all of us, as a community in the state of Montana where we all care about our Montanans.”

As of this morning, the state tracking site listed a 10th death, with 433 confirmed cases but no new cases confirmed Sunday.

Bullock said that because Montana acted quickly with both first responders and public health, the state has a lower rate of infections per capita than many of the neighboring states.

  Last Thursday, President Donald Trump convened a call with the nation’s governors, Bullock said, and laid out guidelines on opening back up the economy adding that the governor’s will call the shots in their own state.

“Over this past month-plus, Montanans have demonstrated their individual independence and strong sense of community once again,” he said. “... Together we are not only saving lives, but also making it so that we will be able to re-open our state and get our economy thriving again long before many other states will be able to.”

  Montana will receive $1.25 billion to respond to the coronavirus crisis, he said, adding that to support governments, organizations and people in Montana that need it most — small businesses workers, tribal communities, nonprofits, state and local governments — the state will be looking at how to use that money, although federal guidelines still have not been set.

He said Montana National Guard Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Matthew Quinn is leading a process on the military strategic planning principles to look when and how Montana can safely begin the steps to re-open.

The process includes the expertise of public health, emergency responders, local providers, businesses and industry leaders, Bullock added.

“We need to do this right, having thought through many of the issues that any individual business would be trying to come up with or considering as well,” he said. “Let me be clear, the stay-at-home directive expires April 24, along with all of our directives because we’ve been trying to keep them in a two week period to make sure that we can both adjust and readjust what is happening on the ground.

“And that stay-at-home directive is in effect till April 24 and it’ll stay in effect till at least next Friday as well,” he added. “After April 24, we’ll move forward with the phase to re-opening with the guidance provided by Gen. Quinn and experts.”

He said this will be a gradual process because once Montana begins to re-open, it would want to stay open and that the “new normal” is going to look different.

“The virus is going away and we are going to have to adapt to how we live with it for the next while,” Bullock added. “By next week, we’ll have a deliberate plan for re-opening, but that will also include planning in the event that we face any setbacks, it will be a phase re-opening.”

He said he has been continuing to consult with public health officials that if Montana doesn’t see surge in new cases in phasing  a re-opening. Those include:

• There has to be a sustained reduction of new reduction for at least 14 days.

• Hospitals are able to safely treat all patients, both COVID-19 and people with other conditions, especially in rural areas .

• Make sure there is a testing capacity to test everyone with COVID-19 symptoms and the capacity for state and local public health officials to conduct active monitoring of newly confirmed cases and their contacts.

Montana has requested more than 30,000 swabs from the federal government over the past three weeks, he said, and has received about 4,000.

He added that President Trump assured him that Montana will get the test kits it needs.

“I certainly sure hope he delivers on that and I’ll be working my hardest to make sure that,” Bullock said, “but we also know that in some respects that we’ve heard promises in times from Washington that haven’t always been materialized. We also want to re-open in a way to work with our businesses, our public health community and our Main Streets, and we want to do it in a way, so they will have thought through some of these challenges of what a new re-opening might look like and they’ll be prepared.

“I want to re-open Montana as much as any Montanan, that’s why we’ve been at the process to do so, but we’ll do it responsibly in phases to ensure that we can keep the curve flat, so that way we can mitigate the risk knowing that the risks is still there,” Bullock added. “We’ll do it in a way that will protect Montanans lives and the recovery of our economy, we’ll continue to do this the Montana way based on the data and the science on the ground, not just on politics and I know that this crisis is hurting Montana and Montanans, but I also know that if we get this wrong it’ll hurt us more. In time of crisis Montanans have always pulled together, that’s how we’ve slowed the spread and protected our nurses, doctors and saved lives.”


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