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Bullock, Tester give update on pandemic activities

Gov. Steve Bullock and Sen. Jon Tester D-Mont., held a joint Facebook live event Wednesday to provide updates both on the state and federal efforts relating to COVID-19.

“Big kudos to the governor because of the early and decisive actions that were based on science and advice of public health experts, not politics Montana has the lowest number of cases per capita in the country of coronavirus,” Tester said. “... Montana was well in position to combat the coronavirus due to Gov. Bullock’s work with folks from both sides of the aisle. He worked with legislators from across Montana to ensure 90,000 more Montanans received health care coverage and that is undoubtedly keeping folks safe right now.”

  He said he knows the uneven response from Washington D.C. has made things more complicated for Bullock.

The fact is that the federal government needs to do a lot more, Tester said, in providing medical supplies for frontline workers, testing capabilities need to be ramped up to meet the demand and the critical relief for small businesses.

  He said Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said more needs to be done in order to get out of the economic turmoil that the nation is in.

“I’m going to continue to work on opportunities and avenues to make it so businesses can go back to the good ol’ days of flourishing in Montana all the while I’ll be holding the federal government accountable to make sure it fulfills its obligations to Montanans,” Tester said.

“I think Montana really has been an example for the rest of the nation in our response to the global pandemic,” Bullock said. “It’s all Montanans because we have taken this seriously.”

The state continues to have the lowest number of positive cases and hospitalizations per capita, he said.

He said Phase Two of the state’s re-opening plan will begin June 1.

“We gotta recognize we can’t prevent all COVID-19 cases, but what we can do there are things that we can do that will allow Montanan’s some sense of a normal life while preventing major outbreaks or overwhelming our state’s health care system,” he added. “... We’ve been ramping up our testing capacity to meet a target of 60,000 tests a month and prioritize some tests for vulnerable Montanans, tribal communities and those frontline workers — increase testing continues with sentinel testing efforts in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, tested events in tribal areas who I was on the phone with earlier today with two of our tribal nations and drive through testing that is being conducted in few sites.”

He said he has no doubt Montana will continue to be an example of how to handle this virus if Montanans, businesses and visitors continue to take seriously the responsibility that the state has to protect all Montanans.

As the state gradually re-opens things, he said, it’s not like the virus has gone away.

Bullock said the state needs to contain and mitigate the risk as additional cases come up in Montana.

“Based on what we’ve put with that phased re-opening plan, I’m comfortable that we have both the testing capability, the personal protective equipment and the health care abilities that we need as well as ensuring then that as we go to this we’ll have the contact tracing along the way when new cases come up,” he said.”... We want to make sure we’re opening in a way that we can stay open and still recognize that it’s not like we have no concerns about COVID-19 anymore.”

Phase Two will allow places like bowling alleys to open up under specific guidelines, and restaurants, breweries and other facilities can have up to 75 percent capacity where social distancing is still possible, he added.

“One of the things that we’ve found through all of this, both with certainly some of the directives that shut things down but especially when we’re opening up things and we’re changing things, we want to give a bit of a timeline, so that local businesses, communities could be prepared when they do change their practices or re-open their practices,” Bullock said. 

The 14-day quarantine from out-of-state travels will also be lifted during Phase Two, he said, adding that doesn’t mean tourism will go completely back to normal.

“That’s good news, and I’ll tell you that I’m happy to hear how you are going to be utilizing the different areas, so that if we start seeing hotspots you can take the proper actions and if not things can continue to move along,” Tester said.

He said that Tuesday, the United States Department of Agriculture announced how $16 billion for the farmers and ranchers from the CARES Act will be dispersed. 

It is going to be available tor producers, farmers and cattle people, who can show they had at least a 5 percent loss related to COVID-19, he said.

“We are going to be pushing the USDA to get the metrics out and I would just say that producers need to get down to their Farm Service Agency office if they think they have been impacted by COVID-19 and sign up,” he added.

The signup period, he said, is from May 26 to Aug. 28.

Bullock thanked Tester for having Montanans’ back and serving the Senate during this time.

“It’s important to use good ol’ Montana common sense when it comes to keeping yourself out of positions where you might be in a place where you could contact COVID-19 utilizing social distancing, good hygiene and just good Montana common sense,” Tester said.


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