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Bullock addresses COVID case increase, rejects WH recommendation of mask compliance fines

State Seal of Montana
Posted at 1:43 PM, Sep 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-23 09:13:54-04

HELENA — Montana has seen a sizable increase in average daily COVID cases since July, with more than 270 new cases in two out of the last four days.

“From mid-July to early September, our weekly number of cases stabilized. Unfortunately that stability was at about 800 per week. So just over the two months we were stable, Montana added about 70 percent of the 10,000 cases that we’ve experienced,” said Jim Murphy, Communicable Disease Control and Prevention bureau chief.

Social distancing and masking up has been a unified message by state and county officials for months, yet cases have continued to rise.

The White House guidance to Montana this week says that the state should consider fining individuals not following mask guidelines in high COVID positive areas (source).

Bullock told reporters he will not be implementing an action like that.

“We’re all tied of having this virus around. We’ll continue to listen to public health experts, but we solve this not by having government regulation alone. We solve it by recognizing that we want to keep our schools and businesses open,” said Bullock. “I’ve talked top business owners across the state that weren’t shut down because of our stay at home order, they were shut down because they ended up with positive cases in their workforce.”

Bullock says ultimately it’s on all of us to limit community transmission in order to ensure businesses can stay open, schools can remain in session and our most vulnerable are less likely to catch the disease.

The State has attributed a lot of the recent cases to congregate settings, like schools, jails and nursing homes.

There was a 90 percent increase in COVID cases between the week ending Sep. 4 and the week ending on Sep. 18 for individuals under the age of 19.

The State also cited Labor Day activities and social distancing fatigue as significant contributing factors for many cases.

“We’re seeing connections to certain social events… whether it be parties or gatherings with families or going to bars, ” explained Lead Communicable Disease Epidemiologist Stacey Anderson. “To date can we say that 40 percent of our COVID are attributed to the age group of 20-39 years-old.”

State Medical Officer Dr. Greg Holzman said the increase in number is a troubling trend that will only bring more suffering to Montana families unless more people begin following COVID guidelines like wearing a mask and limiting social gatherings.

“When disease rates rise we see more suffering, we see more death we see schools that have to close down. Not necessarily because of a health mandate, but because we don’t have teachers or students to learn. We can see businesses suffer as people are concerned about going out and acquiring the virus,” said Dr. Holzman.

Holzman also addressed critics who say the virus isn’t as bad as the medical community is making it out to be.

“While we can state that those with underlying conditions are at higher risk to have a poorer outcome, we cannot state how one individual will respond to getting this virus,” said Holzman. “I can tell you that in the United States well over 200,000 excess deaths. Deaths that are more than we have seen in past years for the same time period. Those excess deaths started in February,” explained Holzman.