Gov. Steve Bullock said Friday he’s working on a “phased reopening” of Montana, provided that the state meets key metrics that show the spread of COVID-19 is slowing.
Bullock said at a Helena news conference that he’s planning to release a full plan next week.
He’s working in coordination with his newly appointed COVID-19 task force, which consists of business, public health and local government leaders and Major General Matthew Quinn, head of the Montana National Guard.
Bullock said the state must meet three benchmarks to begin the phased reopening:
- A sustained reduction in new COVID-19 cases for 14 days. Bullock said the number of cases has fallen over the week, and he expects the trend to continue next week.
- Hospitals must be able to safely treat all patients. Bullock said Montana hospitals must bed capacity to handle COVID-19 patients and other patients.
- Montana must have capacity to test all people with COVID-19 symptoms. The state has completed 10,244 tests as of Friday.
As businesses reopen, Bullock said he expects they will still be required to observe social-distancing regulations and other measures, including temperature checks of employees cleaning requirements of high-traffic areas.
“Once we reopen, we’ve got to be able to stay open,” Bullock said.
Bullock has issued orders to close all schools and to stay at home, which closed all businesses deemed nonessential, including bars, dine-in restaurants, personal-service businesses and others that attract groups of people. Those orders expire April 24. He has also ordered all travelers into Montana to self-quarantine for 14 days to prevent out-of-staters from bringing coronavirus to Montana.
Bullock’s announcement came a day after President Trump said the federal government would provide guidelines for governors to reopen states on their own timelines. In a Thursday news conference, Trump specifically cited Montana as a rural state that could start reopening ahead of other states with more cases of COVID-19.
Montana reported 422 cases of COVID-19 as of Friday. Nine people have died, including the first Cascade County death Friday, and 233 have recovered. Twenty-one people are in hospital with COVID-19, and 54 have been hospitalized statewide since the start of the outbreak.
Bullock said he wants to work with both public-health officials and Main Street business to determine how and when to lift closure orders.
“If we get this wrong, it will hurt us even more,” Bullock added.
This is a developing story.
Watch the full news conference below: