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Bullock warns people must continue to be vigilant

 


Gov. Steve Bullock reminded Montanans during a press conference call Thursday to stay vigilant and continue to take precautions as COVID-19 cases are spiking in other states.

“It’s been nearly three months since we announced the first cases of COVID-19 in Montana — we did take early and aggressive actions to suppress the virus to protect our health care workers on the front lines,” Bullock said. “We know those actions saved lives and early intervention prepared us to be one of the first states in the nation to re-open.”

Bullock cannot run for re-election due to term limits and is a candidate for the U.S. Senate. He faces Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Green Party candidate Wendie Fredrickson in November’s general election.

These past three months, Bullock said, have presented significant challenges to Montanans that have forced a new normal.

The virus has threatened people’s health, safety and has had a widespread impact on the nation’s economy as well Montana’s, he said.

He said during this time he has repeatedly witnessed Montanans rising to each and every challenge.

“Montanans have practiced social distancing, limiting gatherings and boosted sanitation efforts,” he added. “They’ve identified creative ways to stay in touch with neighbors and loved ones who are at high-risk and need to stay home. Individuals, businesses and nonprofits have done incredible acts of kindness and service across the nation to support those in need.”

Some businesses have shifted their business model to respond to a direct need created by the virus, he said, and others have engaged in thoughtful planning to re-open while keeping their employees and customers safe.

He said through these continued collective actions and the commitment in taking the virus seriously, the state is nearly two weeks into Phase Two of the re-opening.

At the same level, he said, the state has acquired and continues to acquire the personal protective equipment and other supplies that health care workers and those on the front lines need to do their job safely.

“We’ve been using testing protocols to understand how prevalent the virus in our communities — tested widely and frequently with a goal to stay ahead of the major outbreak,” Bullock said. “These actions have supported our efforts to stay open, but of course, to continue this path we all must remain committed. The virus is certainly here with us and we must keep learning how to live with it and to mitigate its spread.”

In Montana, testing is scaling up to prioritize vulnerable Montanans and also prioritizing surveillance testing in tribal and tourism communities, he said.

He added that 8,399 tests were processed from this past Monday to Wednesday night.

By following the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, he said, the state is also testing people who came in contact with a positive case even if they are asymptomatic.

“Now, with this widespread testing, we do expect to see new cases, but these cases also serve as a reminder that we cannot get complacent and if unchecked this virus will spread quickly and quietly,” Bullock said. “Following Memorial Day weekend, many states across the country are experiencing a surge of new cases that are certainly causing concern. While some of the cases may be due to an increase in surveillance testing across the country, nine states are experiencing an increase in hospitalizations of people who are very sick, which indicates that these individuals certainly weren’t identified through asymptomatic testing.”

In Montana, local and public health are working carefully to perform contact tracing to get exposed individuals into quarantine and to eliminate the chance of transmission to keep the virus under control in the state, he said.

“We also need Montanans to keep doing their part. That means continuing social distancing, wearing a mask in spaces and places where social distancing is difficult to maintain, washing hands frequently, and by all means staying at home if you are sick and taking a test if you are experiencing symptoms,” he said.

Last week, he provided information on cases that were identified in Gallatin, Big Horn and Yellowstone counties, he said. Local county health and tribal health have been investigating known cases and working to identify all possible contacts to fully understand how the virus is spreading.

He said that, so far, most of the cases announced this week were known contacts of an already identified case or were household members of one of those known cases.

Thursday, it was announced that two inmates at Montana’s Women Prison tested presumed positive through the Department of Corrections testing of asymptomatic inmates, he said.

“Quarantine and isolation measures were implemented immediately and Riverstone Health in Billings is conducting contact tracing those who might’ve been in contact with those two presumed positive cases,” Bullock said. “To take additional measures all inmates and staff were tested, those results are pending. To date, as part of sentinel testing efforts the Department of Corrections has tested 616 among all of its facilities and 102 staff members. These two cases mark the only presumptive positive results that the department has received.

“I’m certainly asking Montanans to continue respecting local decisions and our tribal nations or in other localities to keep the virus contained as possible,” he added. 

 

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