HELENA — As Montana sees a statewide spike in the number of COVID-19 cases, Gov. Steve Bullock said it’s a reminder that people still need to be taking steps to limit the spread of the disease.
“It should be evident to everyone that the virus is still very much here,” he said during a Wednesday news conference.
Montana has reported at least 69 new cases over the last week. Bullock said many of those cases have been in clusters, from a single household or workplace. That includes two workplaces in Custer County, which has reported its first 19 cases in the last seven days. However, none of those affected in the county have been hospitalized yet.
Bullock said part of the increase in cases may have come from a change in how they respond to reported cases. Health leaders are now testing all close contacts of anyone who tests positive, rather than only those who show symptoms.
He also said many of the latest cases have been linked to out-of-state travel. He said leaders will soon began releasing information on visitors from other states who have tested positive in Montana.
Bullock said Wednesday that he’s not considering putting on additional statewide restrictions at this time, but he asked all individuals and businesses to continue efforts like social distancing and sanitizing.
“We all have to commit to doing more to slow the spread of this virus in the coming months,” he said. “We don’t want to be taking steps backwards, after how far we’ve come in successfully maintaining the lowest number of cases in the nation.”
He also said he is strongly encouraging people to wear masks when they cannot maintain distancing.
“Let’s make mask-wearing where social distancing isn’t possible a norm in Montana, so that when visitors come to our state, they know that this is the Montana way and they should follow suit,” said Bullock.
Also on Wednesday, Bullock announced a new loan deferment program to assist businesses that have been hurt by COVID-19. It will allow businesses to delay payments on existing commercial loans by up to a year, freeing up more capital. Coronavirus relief funds will cover interest payments, up to 6% or $150,000.
The administration worked with Montana banks on the details of the program. Bullock said the state will direct $125 million from the $1.25 billion pool of federal relief funds to the program – with $25 million set aside specifically for hotels and restaurants.
You can find the full eligibility criteria for the Loan Deferment Program at covidrelief.mt.gov.
Bullock also announced he will direct $530,000 from the funds to the Montana Department of Commerce, to encourage people to submit their information for the U.S. Census. The census deadline was pushed back to Oct. 31 because of the pandemic.