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Bullock: Ramping up rules on safety in senior living facilities


Last updated 7/8/2020 at 11:58am

Gov. Steve Bullock said during a press call Tuesday more needs to be done to protect residents in senior living facilities from COVID-19.

"Today, as Montanans, we've received some of the most solemn news that we've received over the past few months. We know of 58 positive cases at the Canyon Creek Assisted Living Facility in Billings," Bullock said. "... It is clear more needs to be done to protect residents just not in our nursing homes, but also our assisted living facilities as well."

He asked the Department of Health and Human Services to issue an emergency rule to acquire both long-term care facilities and assisted living facilities participate in surveillance testing of staff and residents, he said.

Bullock, who faces U.S. Sen. Steve Daines and Green Party candidate Wendie Fredrickson in November's Senate election, said 67 of 72 long-term care facilities in Montana are already participating in sentinel testing and are setting up plans to conduct weekly testing.

Five long-term facilities in the state, he said, that have been unwilling to participate in testing.

"With this emergency rule, if they want to continue to allow visitors for the residents they will now be required to do that test," he added.

He said 177 of 217 assisted living facilities in the state are participating in the sentinel testing with 107 completed so far.

Every single assisted living facility should be conducting sentinel testing, he said.

"So, the purpose of this rule is to help prevent what has happened in Canyon Creek moving forward," Bullock said. "... In March, we made a series of decisions to help prevent significant outbreaks in our state, give us time to ramp up preparedness, and respond much like just about every other state in the nation."

Under the stay-at-home order Montana was able to learn more about COVID-19 and it's potential impacts on the communities, he said.

He said rapid, active contact tracing, which is the cornerstone in infectious disease prevention, is happening with quick identification with exposed contacts infected with COVID-19.

Local public health partners are working incredibly hard to get those individuals at-risk, causing the continued spread of the virus to quarantine or isolation to prevent disease spread, he said. 

"Tests are in much bigger supply - we have robust testing efforts underway in Montana," he said. "Everyone who is symptomatic is to get tested. Close contacts to known cases are being tested and we're learning of new asymptomatic cases are based without symptoms as a result of that."

Sentinel testing is also being conducted among people living in at-risk settings such as nursing homes, assisted living facilities, correctional facilities as well as tribal communities, he said.

"Last week, from June 27 to July 3, we met a testing goal of 15,000 tests per week, for the first time we actually surpassed it and performed a total of 17, 913 tests," Bullock said. "... We continue to build up our stock in hand of personal protective equipment that we then can turn around and provide to health care facilities, counties and tribes. I know that health care systems across the state are also building up their supply as well."

He said much has changed since March, when the state and Montanans put forth prevention efforts to keep people safe and healthy and to save lives.

Much of the same is needed, he said, including maintaining social distancing and good hygiene like continuing to wash hands.

"We continue to see large events, especially with those you don't typically interact with, are factored in and contributing to new cases," he said. "We need to make a habit of these actions in this new phase in order to minimize our risk as we continue to live our lives with COVID-19. 

"We need to have a healthy workforce and a public that feels safe, and is safe for our economy to do well and for us to be successful under Phase 2 of the re-opening," he added.

He said wearing masks also needs to be made a habit to protect one's loved ones and neighbors from COVID-19.

"I do have optimism that Montanans will spread the word, share with their neighbors the importance of wearing a mask when indoors or in crowds," he said. "Wearing a mask is really about promoting respect and kindness for others to save lives and get through this together." 

Bullock said whether one is a Cat or a Griz, they can both agree they want to keep Montanans safe and healthy, and stay open.

Montana State University Bobcats Football Coach Jeff Choate echoed that, saying wearing a mask is something that should unite the state, not divide it.

"It doesn't matter if you wear the blue and gold or you wear the maroon and silver, this is an issue that we all need to get behind," he said. "I know our boys and our fans want to get out to Bobcat stadium and I know Coach Hauck and his team feels the same way - that is just one example of us working together to take some pressure off our health care workers and to mitigate this virus."

He said he sees wearing a mask as an act of patriotism, in a lot of ways, and wants to see all the Bobcats and Grizzlies around the state to participate in the mask up Montana campaign.


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