Bullock urges continued caution for large gatherings; state rolls out guidelines for fall school reopening
During a July 2 press briefing, Gov. Steve Bullock said that while Montana continues to have the lowest number of cases and deaths related to COVID-19, it is still a serious concern.
The state now has 1,083 cases, according to the state dashboard. There have been 222 new cases this week alone, Bullock said, and 389 currently active cases statewide.
Of the total cases statewide, 672 have recovered and 22 have died.
“It’s clear…Montanans have let their guard down,” Bullock said.
As of July 1, Cascade County had 34 total cases, according to the Cascade County City-County Health Department.
Trisha Gardner, county health officer, said that of the county’s 34 cases, 10 are active and one of them is hospitalized. There were two COVID-19 related deaths in the county in the spring.
Gardner told The Electric that the other cases were either asymptomatic and released from quarantine or had symptoms and have since recovered and been released from isolation.
That makes 22 cases that have recovered in the county since March.
The county has had 17 new cases since June 13. Before that, there had been no new cases since May 11.
He said that Montanans should anticipate seeing high daily numbers for the near future and said that going into the July 4 holiday weekend that Montanans should be cautious of large crowds or stay away from them; cautious if family visitors are in town; cautious indoors around people they’re unfamiliar with if distancing can’t be achieved.
Bullock said outdoor events are better, but there are still risks of spreading COVID-19.
He said he has concerns about where Montana is headed, but greater optimism that Montanans would take precautions to prevent spreading COVID-19.
Bullock said that six weddings in five counties over the last two weeks have directly contributed to 24 confirmed cases in Montana, impacting at least seven counties and two other states.
Bullock said they’re also seeing cases attributed to bars, such as at least 15 cases in Gallatin and Yellowstone County that have been traced to three local establishments.
Workplace settings, such as construction crews, offices and even the Missoula Fire Department are seeing clusters, he said. Earlier this week, five Missoula firefigthers tested positive for COVID-19.
In eight Montana counties, including Cascade County, have indicated they are seeing some community spread, meaning public health officials are unable to link a case to other known cases.
Bullock said the number of cases connected to out-of-state travel or contacts hasn’t changed much and represents about 8 percent of cases.
The biggest problem, he said, is Montanans not taking precautions.
The group settings he noted during the briefing account for about 70 of the recent cases, he said.
Bullock has not mandated the use of masks, but recommended using them in public settings where distancing isn’t possible.
Multiple associations in the state and the Montana Chamber of Commerce have asked the business community to use masks to prevent spreading the virus and business closures.
Bullock’s office and the Montana Office of Public Instruction both rolled out guidelines for reopening schools in the fall.
“We are acutely aware of the role played by in-person teaching, not only in the students’ lives, but also in the lives of the entire family. Public education has shaped who we are today, and we want to make certain that our children have the same experience. This is why we’ve made the safe reopening of our public schools a top priority,” Bullock and Lt. Gov. Cooney wrote in the plan. “Noting the uniqueness of every school district in Montana, our goal for this document is not to be prescriptive, but to provide effective, flexible guidelines to all schools in hopes that we can safely resume in-person instruction in the fall.”
Great Falls Public Schools Superintendent Tom Moore told The Electric earlier this week that staff will discuss plans for the fall reopening during the July 13 school board meeting.
During the press briefing, Cooney said that many Montana families rely on schools for nutrition and childcare as well as education and child development.
It’s also a safe for some Montana students and when they aren’t in school, that removes the close contact with teachers or staff who would notice signs of abuse or neglect, Cooney said.
He said that the plan serves as guidelines and that each district is unique and should consult with local health departments to plan for fall reopening. There is nothing in the plan, he said, that prevents districts from taking more stringent precautions if needed.