Bullock: More openings scheduled, many applications on state relief programs
Last updated 5/11/2020 at 11:47am
Gov. Steve Bullock said during a press conference Friday that people are massively responding to a state COVID-19 relief program that opened Thursday, and with continued action to reduce the spread of novel coronavirus 2019 more relaxing of restrictions are likely.
Beginning Friday of this week, museums, gyms and movie theaters will have the opportunity to re-open, he said.
“The decision was made with input from public health to determine what kinds of social distancing capacity, sanitation requirements must be implemented to allow these establishments to re-open while minimizing exposure,” Bullock said. “Gyms, fitness studios, movie theaters and museums must all keep their capacity at 50 percent or below, implement social distancing and boost sanitation efforts. Some of these specifics include hosting a group class at school only at this point, offering hand sanitizer, managing customer flow and training workers on these new requirements.”
The gyms, theaters and museums will be responsible for maintaining its capacity and sanitizing frequently, he said, adding that Montanans still have a role to play as if anyone is sick to stay at home, wash their hands and pay attention to the policies that are implemented by these establishments.
“We’re able to take these steps and this next step because Montanans have worked together collectively to follow the guidelines and indeed are continuing to remain cautious,” he said. “We must continue this effort to keep Montanans healthy and we must continue this effort if we want to stay open. We continue to have a low number of new positives which does provide us with that opportunity to gradually re-open earlier than many states in a way where we have strict social distancing measures. But, as it is everywhere else the virus is still 14 Montana and it will be here for a long time.”
He said that he announced last week the creation of nine new programs including grants to help with economic recovery.
These nine programs joined the state’s existing support services as well as direct federal appropriations to ensure the state can go on short-term and long-term path of economic recovery, Bullock said.
He said, through that first round of emergency relief grant funding, $5 million was made available for local and tribal health departments and urban tribal clinics to help support contact tracing efforts, adding that those dollars can also assist with overall efforts in response to COVID-19 such as helping local businesses to ensure they follow re-opening guidelines — 41 public health offices have applied for these grants, thus far.
“Fifteen minutes after the application portal for the nine new grants opened (Thursday), there were more than 2,000 people trying to start applications,” he said. “As of (Friday)‚ morning, 5,500 businesses have applied for the stabilization grant alone with 150 applications already approved. Over 270 businesses have applied for the food and ag adaptability program, 465 for the innovations grants.”
He added that, as of Friday morning, more than 400 Montanans submitted applications for housing assistance and more than 600 nonprofits applied for social services grants.
The agencies operating these grant programs have enlisted additional staff to review applications and get the funds out as quickly as possible, he said.
“With the need for this economic relief clear, we’re also addressing the need for the next round and what else might be needed in the future,” he said. “This is just an initial round of funding based on the immediate needs identified by Montanans and small businesses. There will certainly be additional funding announced in the upcoming weeks, and we’ll closely monitor the demand for this first round of emergency grants to adjust as needed and insure Montanans are getting relief.”
He said the state government is continuing to look for ways that the state can help fill unmet needs not addressed by the CARES Act or other federal funding going forward.
He said the number of cases of COVID-19 confirmed has dropped dramatically since directives have come out requiring social distancing and the stay-at-home order.
Phase One of re-opening started two weeks ago.
Bullock gave information form an updated report of cases in Montana.
“The first COVID-19 case in Montana was reported on March 11, since then the number of cases has climbed to 455 in seven weeks,” he said. “After reaching that first 100 reported cases within two weeks, well over 100 cases were reported each of the following two weeks. Since then, every week there have been fewer reported cases than the previous week. The growth of COVID-19 continues to slow in Montana at this time.”
He said the confirmation rate has gone down over time and as of Friday the overall rate of lab testing coming up positive was 3.1 percent.
From March 31 to April 10, he said, the rate was 4 percent.
Bullock said more than 2,000 contacts were identified through case investigation and contact tracing.
“In Montana’s six largest counties, 139 COVID-19 cases were identified as a result of contact tracing,” he said. “An additional 80 cases were reported in other jurisdictions resulting in a total 219 cases identified through contact tracing.
“... I’d really like to thank our local public health offices who are on the front lines of mitigating the spread of the virus,” Bullock added. “These results certainly show that their efforts to identify and quarantine help lead us to where we are today in our state.”