HELENA — Gov. Steve Bullock says Montana’s early actions to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 cases have been successful, bringing the state to a place where restrictions can start to be relaxed. However, as the first phase of the state reopening plan is set to begin, Bullock warned people will still need to take actions to maintain that progress.
“I’d like to reiterate how important it is that Montanans continue to go to great lengths to protect themselves and one another in these coming weeks,” Bullock said Friday during a news conference.
Bullock released a statewide phased reopening plan on Wednesday. Under Phase 1 of that plan, the state stay-at-home order will be lifted Sunday. Places of worship can open Sunday with increased social distancing, and many retail businesses can do the same on Monday. Restaurants, bars and casinos can reopen on May 4, and schools can return to in-person classes on May 7.
Bullock noted that the number of new confirmed coronavirus cases in Montana fell from about 45 last week to about 11 this week. He said ensuring all symptomatic people are tested for COVID-19 will continue to be crucial as restrictions are loosened.
“We’ll continue to work each and every day to bolster that testing capacity,” he said. “This work won’t end in Phase 1 – and won’t end at any time while I’m serving as governor.”
Bullock said the state is looking at “sentinel sites” – places in at-risk communities where people with and without symptoms could be tested.
Dr. Marc Mentel, president of the Montana Medical Association, also took part in the news conference. He praised the state’s actions to slow the spread of the virus and said Montana has been fortunate so far – but that the state is “not out of the woods.”
Mentel said he saw a phased reopening as the best way for the state to move forward. He argued a full reopening would mean far too many Montanans contracting the disease before the state reached a “herd immunity,” and that continuing the shutdown until a vaccine can be created – possibly a year or more from now – would be unrealistic.
Bullock said leaders will be watching closely as Montana begins its phased reopening. He said they won’t move to Phase 2 unless the curve remains flat, and he urged people to continue social distancing and the other steps they have been taking.
“There is no expiration date for this phase,” he said. “The virus still is in Montana; it will be with us for some time. That means that we may be in Phase One also for a long time. In large part, when we get out of this phase relies on the individual actions and personal responsibility of Montanans.”