HELENA - Gov. Steve Bullock held a press call Wednesday sharing an update on recent COVID-19 cases and testing in the state.
Gov. Bullock started off the press call giving background information on Montana's recent spike in positive cases between June and July. Gov. Bullock said currently nine counties in the state are considered hotspots and contain 80-percent of active cases. Gov. Bullock says younger aged groups are spreading the virus greatly. In Missoula, two-thirds of positive cases are individuals under the age of 40, and one-half are individuals under the age of 30.
Gov. Bullock stressed taking action such as wearing a mask is essential to reducing the spread of the virus and protecting others. Two weeks ago, the governor ordered a statewide mandate requiring face coverings in all indoor spaces in counties with at least four active cases.
Gov. Bullock says on top of mask wearing to fight the virus, continuing to educate Montanans
Going forward, Gov. Bullock says the state is continuing to boost testing capacity and return testing results to individuals on a timely matter.
"I understand there have been frustrations among those who've participated in community drive-through events and have not received their results back for what's now over even two weeks. I'm frustrated as well," Gov. Bullock said.
Gov. Bullock says they are stressing Quest to assess the samples so they can be helpful in containing the virus through contact tracing. Gov. Bullock says Quest should be completing their backlog tests by Friday.
Gov. Bullock says their contract with North Carolina lab MAKO has conducted an estimation of 4,000 tests for Montana residents last week. He adds the Montana State University lab is anticipating to operate testing in the near future.
"The state lab continues to perform tests with a quick turnaround. They're currently prioritizing those with symptoms, close contacts and outbreak investigations, as well as frontline workers and residents of congregate care settings."
Gov. Bullock says the state has finished a total of 70,000 tests over the last month, reaching their goal of 60,000 tests per month.
"We will continue to strive meeting this goal and ensure those who need a test are getting one with results in a timely matter. But most importantly, our top priority is making sure we're promoting and encouraging the testing will help us best control the outbreaks and protect our most vulnerable citizens."
Gov. Bullock referenced congress' next coronavirus relief package stating the senate's proposal Tuesday would allow Montana to use a fraction of the $1.25 billion to restore state and local government revenue. He said governors all over the country are asking for a total of $500 billion to cover state and local government revenues impacted by the pandemic for over the next three years.
"We here in Montana are fortunate to have started this pandemic in a stronger fiscal position and would be able to manage with existing funds if needed, unlike most other states across the country."
Gov. Bullock added extra funding would help with not only state and local governments, but also with small Montana businesses, nonprofits, healthcare providers, agricultural producers and more impacted by the pandemic.
"In anticipation that congress would be debating on the flexibility with existing funds or new funds this summer, another reason why we've held on to the some of the $1.25 billion that the state was allocated, it is absolutely critical that we spend this money responsibly and are able to adapt to any future changes or challenges."
Finally, the governor announced that coronavirus relief applications for public schools and accredited private schools are now open. The first application deadline is Friday, July 31 with payments made on Aug. 7. The next deadline is Aug. 14 with payments made Aug. 21.