On Wednesday, Gov. Steve Bullock held a press conference with state health leaders to address the rise in COVID cases, the status of Montana hospitals dealing with COVID and unemployment insurance funds.
Montana crossed 16,000 covid cases this week, with 5,352 COVID cases active in the state on Oct. 7. On Wednesday, 733 daily COVID cases were reported, with 235 active hospitalizations.
The significant increase in cases has left several Montana hospitals strained, with 20 hospitals in the state currently caring for severe COVID patients.
Bullock announced the state will begin to publicly display information about COVID hospital capacity in an effort to provide an additional resource to the public and the health care community.
The snapshot report will show bed capacity, beds occupied, ventilators availability and ICU availability.
“As Gov. Bullock indicated, with increased case counts we’re expecting an increase in hospitalization in the next few weeks. Unfortunately with increased cases and increased hospitalizations we also expect increases in deaths too,” said the State’s Communicable Disease Bureau Chief Jim Murphy.
Murphy noted several Montana hospitals were at or near capacity recently, some some having to divert patients to other hospitals.
The reports will break down the information by each region of the state which can help area hospitals better understand what their greater community is facing.
State Medical Officer Dr. Greg Holzman told reporters of the 2,400 cases reported last week, more than half were in Cascade, Flathead, Gallatin, Missoula and Yellowstone counties.
“There are risks that there will be more times when the hospitals reach capacity and will not be able to accept patients for some time,” Dr. Holzman said. “However, we know it’s paramount that care is not delayed, and when patients from a critical access hospital needs to be transferred to higher levels of care that they’re available.”
Bullock again called upon all Montanans to follow state and local guidelines, while affirming his position on leaving stricter COVID mandates in the hands of local governments.
“Pandemics don’t go away on their own and they also don’t spread on their own either,” said Bullock. “It’s our actions as Montanans that have brought our total case count to over 16,000 and to nearly 200 deaths. It’s our actions as Montanans that have stressed our hospital resources and it’s our actions as Montanans that can flatten the curve.”
On Wednesday, Bullock also announced he’s directed $200 million of federal CARES Act money to be transferred to the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.
The state estimates by doing so Montana businesses, who pay into unemployment insurance, will avoid an 85 percent spike in their tax rate.
“Montana businesses have already been hit hard once due to COVID-19 and its economic impacts. The last thing we want is to see them hit hard twice by significantly increasing unemployment insurance rates,” Bullock said. “Boosting the trust fund will have a real impact on the ground for tens of thousands of Montana businesses next year and for years to come and will play a key role in the state’s economic recovery.”
The Montana Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund has been significantly tapped due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The $200 million infusion of funds will bring it back up to around $400 million in total reserves.
Bullock also called on Congress and the president to find common ground and get another COVID stimulus package passed as soon as possible to help Americans who are financially struggling.
In response to the governor’s press conference, U.S> Sen.Steve Daines' office said that Congress provided funding for guaranteed up to an additional 10 weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave for families unable to work because of caring for a child due to school/child care closures related to COVID-19.
Daines' office added that Phase 2 of Congress' COVID-19 response requires businesses to provide two weeks of paid sick leave for individuals unable to work due to the virus and employers are reimbursed for the cost of the leave through a tax credit.