The Glasgow Courier - Serving Proudly As The Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

By A.J. Etherington
The Courier 

Gov. Looks to Gradually Reopen Montana


April 22, 2020

In a press call on April 17, Governor Steve Bullock said that Montanans were flattening the curve related to the spread of coronavirus in the state. He followed up the announcement by stating that a plan was being considered to begin reopening the economy sometime after April 24—which is when the current statewide orders are set to expire.

“We’ve worked to protect our vulnerable populations and removed as many people from the chain of transmission as possible, both to reduce infections but also to save lives,” said the governor. “In short we have flattened the curve and we have saved lives.”

The plan is being prepared by the state’s coronavirus task force led by Adjutant General of the Montana Army National Guard, Major General Michael Quinn. Details about the plan are expected to be released the week of April 20, but were not available at press time.

“We’ve got to recognize our new normal is going to look a little bit different. The virus isn’t going away and we’re going to have to continue to adapt how we live with it for the next while,” he said.

Governor Bullock said that on April 16, the President of the United States held a call with governors and made clear that state governors would take charge in how they reopen their economies. Bullock lauded the deference to local governments and pointed out that Montana’s efforts had kept the COVID-19 numbers low.

“I know that Montanans are hurting financially. We all want to get Montana working again,” said Bullock.

Bullock explained that he was working with public health and economic advisers to discuss how the state could move forward with a reopening without jeopardizing the low infection rate and producing a new regional hotspot. To analyze the situation and put the state on a “path to economic recovery” he established the Coronavirus Relief Fund Task Force, which will oversee the use of the state’s $1.25 billion in federal aid.

Bullock said there were many factors that would need to be weighed before a phased reopening could go into effect. He said there must be a sustained reduction of cases for 14 days; secondly he said hospitals must be able to safely treat all patients in the state whether they are COVID-19 cases or other patients; and the state must effectively be able to test for the disease which will require enough supplies for testing.

Bullock said that multiple governors—Republican and Democrat—had brought up testing in the call with President Trump on April 16, specifically stating the state has been in need of not only test kits but also supplies that go out to local hospitals to collect samples, such as swabs. On April 20, Governor Bullock announced 5,000 nasal swabs arrived to the state DPHHS warehouse in Helena from FEMA. “Just days ago I joined Republican and Democrat governors in voicing concerns to the President about the shortage of testing supplies, which impacts our ability to test on the ground. I’m pleased that those concerns were listened to and that we received this shipment, but it doesn’t get us far enough,” Governor Bullock said in a press release. “I will continue to push for further federal support in order to ensure we have the adequate testing capacity as we reopen in a way that will protect Montanans’ lives and the recovery of our economy.”

The push to reopen Montana comes after non-essential sectors of the economy have been shuttered since early March after Montana reported its first case of COVID-19. Since that time there have been 437 cases of the disease in Montana with 273 since recovered, 59 total hospitalizations, 14 current hospitalizations and 12 deaths as of April 21. The number of new reported cases began declining on March 28 after new numbers on March 27 reached a high of 35. On April 20, Montana added zero new cases to the total—the first time since the initial in-state cases were reported on March 13.

The week of April 13, state Republican lawmakers and state officers sent a letter to the Governor pushing for a statewide reopening and on April 18—after the Governor’s plans were announced—over 200 protesters staged a rally at the state capitol to protest stay-at-home and business closure orders in the state.


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