Over the past several weeks, Montanans have faced unprecedented challenges. Our way of life has changed rapidly. Like every corner of our country, our once thriving economy is ailing. We’ve lost family members and friends.
As we have aggressively managed the virus over the past five weeks, we have bought time for our health care workers to prepare and respond, we have protected those most vulnerable to illness from this disease particularly in our nursing homes, and we have been able to increase our testing capacity and secure additional personal protective equipment.
Because Montanans took the virus seriously and acted responsibly, Montana has the lowest number of positive COVID-19 cases per capita and the lowest number of hospitalizations per capita in the nation. There are very few states in the country that can say they have seen the number of positive cases decline over these past weeks. Montana can say that because, together, we made it possible.
As I have all along the way in response to COVID-19, I will continue to prioritize the health and safety of Montanans, guided by ongoing data and science from public health and emergency response experts. The phased plan to reopen the Big Sky is guided by this same decision-making. We are able to enter the first phase, under strict guidelines and by continuing to follow social distancing, because we flattened the curve.
But let me be clear: we could very well be in the first phase for a long time. We will not move out of phase one if the curve doesn’t remain flat. The reality is, this virus isn’t gone from Montana and it will continue to be with us, even as we work to contain it. This isn’t the time for a celebratory barbecue or going out to the breweries and bars several nights a week. For a lot of Montanans, including our most vulnerable, this phase should be substantially similar to the stay at home period. Once we begin to reopen, we want to be able to stay open.
We must begin to create a new normal. Montanans must continue to go to great lengths to protect one another. Follow hand washing and sanitizing recommendations. Strongly consider using a non-medical face covering when in public. Nursing homes will continue to suspend visitation. The 14-day travel quarantine when entering Montana for non-work-related purposes will remain in effect.
For the businesses that wish and are able to reopen, we are asking even more to protect employees and customers. Implement health assessments and symptom screening. Keep telework in place wherever feasible. Implement proper sanitation practices and adhere to strict social distancing. Just like we're now used to the markings on the floor of grocery stores, retail stores must be able to maintain physical distancing.
Our local school districts are diverse in size and circumstances and they know what is best for their communities and their students. I have no doubt they will figure out how to best serve our children and they have my support in making the right choice for their communities – keeping kids home for the remainder of the school year or opening up in some capacity.
I know that people are concerned with our level of testing and protective equipment. Over the last several weeks, I have been working with President Trump, the federal government, neighboring states and the private market to secure hundreds of thousands of face masks, shields, and gloves and to source further testing supplies. That work will not end in phase one; it won’t end at any time while I serve as your governor. You have my word that we will continue to bolster our testing capacity. Additionally, just as local public health has done an incredible job reducing the spread by investigating cases and ensuring quarantine of those who have come in contact with a positive case, they will continue to do so all along the way.
Unlike almost every other state in the nation, we have flattened the curve the Montana way by taking care of our neighbors when things get tough. I have no doubt that Montanans will take the phase one guidance seriously and continue to go to great lengths to keep our fellow Montanans healthy and safe. I will continue to put the well-being of Montanans first, continue to consult public health experts and business leaders, and use facts, not politics, to guide my directives. Together, we will do what is best for the state of Montana, best for Montana workers and business, and best for the future of Montana’s children.