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By Tim Leeds 

Bullock: Uptick in COVID cases stresses need to take precautions


Last updated 6/18/2020 at 12:10pm

Gov. Steve Bullock said during a press conference Wednesday that the increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases in recent weeks as the state goes through its phased re-opening shows that people still need to take precautions to prevent the spread of the disease.

“I know that it’s certainly on everyone’s mind here, the increase in the number of cases we’ve seen in the last few weeks, and it’s certainly on my mind,” he said. “ … It should be evident to everyone that the virus is very much still here.”

Bullock said many new cases in Big Horn County and the Crow Reservation, as well as some cases that have been confirmed in Custer County, come from mass testing done on the Crow Reservation and tracing contacts of the ill people and doing more testing.

Big Horn County as of this morning has 53 cases, with four new cases confirmed in this morning’s count, and three deaths.

Bullock said the experience in Big Horn County and an early cluster in Toole County “should be instructive to all of us, and that’s any area of the state is vulnerable to an outbreak and loss of life.”

The count this morning listed 25 new cases in Montana.

Bullock said Wednesday that five of the new cases in recent weeks were of people who traveled into Montana, and that having more cases confirmed was something that was expected as Montana started to re-open and more testing was done.

But, he said, it shows people need to remember that the virus is still out there and people need to take precautions.

He said it has become evident that Montanans are reacting differently to dealing with the virus, and it is important that they follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, staying home if they feel sick at all, contacting their health care provider, using telehealth and using the much-more-widely available testing.

“In addition to social distancing, washing hands, disinfecting, let’s make mask-wearing where social distancing isn’t possible a norm in Montana so when visitors come to our state they know this is the Montana way and that they should follow suit,” Bullock said. 

He said studies show widespread wearing masks in community settings can significantly reduce the spread of coronavirus

“And masking up shouldn’t be a political or an  ideological thing,” Bullock said. “Remember that people may spread the virus before they even show symptoms. We often don’t know what underlying health conditions our friends, our colleagues and our neighbors might be dealing with.

“Right now, we ought to be acting and living as if we might have the virus and that people around us might have the virus as well,” Bullock added. “We need to take care of our neighbors, our parents and our grandparents.

“We need to protect those most at-risk,” he said, “those with underlying medical conditions and older populations by taking precautions to prevent exposing them to the virus.’’

He said the increase in numbers is partially due to increased testing and testing everyone a confirmed case has been in contact with even if they show no symptoms.

He said being able to identify cases early and isolate and treat confirmed cases is a good thing.

But, he added, he is concerned about cases where it is difficult to trace the contacts back to the source.

He also said the new cases have to be placed in context. Montana has the lowest number of cases in the country and the third-lowest number of new cases.

“However, we all have to commit to do more,” he said.

He said the state continues to add to the number of tests being done, moving toward its goal of 15,000 tests a week and 60,000 a month.

He said from May 30 to June 5 the state did 7,740 tests, and last week did 11,379.

He also said the state is closing in on testing the residents and staff of every nursing home, and seven of Montana’s eight tribal nations have done mass testing with the last to be done in July and more testing planned.

He said the state is also starting a new program to help the people and businesses economically impacted.

He said he has directed $125 million of the federal money given to the state to help it deal with the pandemic into a fund to defer loan programs for businesses impacted by the virus.

Of that, $25 million is specifically for hotels and restaurants.

Bullock said the fund will help free up capital for businesses struggling with the pandemic.


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