HELENA — Gov. Steve Bullock Wednesday outlined a goal of expanded testing for covid-19 in Montana, and other steps, to isolate and further slow spread of the disease, as the state undergoes a phased re-opening.
The governor said the goal is 60,000 tests per month, including tests of all residents and employees of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, tribal communities and front-line health workers.
Bullock said he’s also creating five “strike teams” of nurses and National Guard members that, starting next week, will be available to help any long-term care facilities or other communities that have a positive test.
“This virus will be in Montana for the foreseeable future,” he said at a news conference at the Capitol. “Our health-care workers will continue to battle it, as we try to contain any spread.”
Yet Bullock couldn’t say how quickly the testing goal will be reached or precisely how and when it might affect decisions on additional phases of lifting restrictions imposed to contain the disease.
“The better understanding we have of the virus, the better it informs us what we can collectively do, going forward,” he said. “There is no way to say, (re-opening) will happen on X day, until we actually see what happens over these next two weeks.”
The initial “Phase 1” of lifting restrictions began just three days ago, with churches and many businesses allowed to re-open. Restaurants and bars are scheduled to re-open this coming Monday, but still with social-distancing requirements.
Spokespersons for nursing homes, nurses and tribes praised Bullock’s push for more testing and pledged their support.
“This testing framework will provide the support needed for our Montana citizens,” said Vicky Byrd of the Montana Nurses Association. “Moreover, this will provide our nurse-practitioner and physician-led independent rural health-care clinics the ability to provide much-needed care directly to those patients.”
The testing of nursing-home and assisted-living residents and employees will begin next week, the governor said, and “surveillance” or sample testing will continue after that.
Further testing and the goal of 60,000 monthly tests will occur as supplies allow, Bullock said.
He said the federal government recently committed to supplying states with 12.7 million swabs each month beginning in May. The state received 15,000 swabs from the feds within the last week, is expecting another 7,000 this week, and is receiving 3,000 more from a private vendor, Bullock said.
Bullock said anyone who’s feeling ill and has any symptoms of the disease – chills, shaking, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, coughing or shortness of breath – should be tested.
He also said that Montanans must do their part to continue to be vigilant, by maintaining social distancing, washing their hands and wearing a facemask in public, which is “strongly encouraged.”
“Life will remain very much different than it was before this virus,” Bullock said.
As of Wednesday, Montana has 451 confirmed covid-19 cases, 16 deaths, and 356 people who’ve recovered from the disease. This week, Montana has added just five cases out of 337 people tested, Bullock said.