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The latest news about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 in Montana.

Gov. Expected To Begin Gradual Reopening After Restrictions Expire Friday

North Higgins Ave. in Missoula was mostly empty on the morning of April 3, 2020.
William Marcus
Montana Public Radio
North Higgins Ave. in Missoula was mostly empty on the morning of April 3, 2020.

The Montana coronavirus task force is expected to move forward with a gradual, phased reopening of the state after stay-at-home and other closure orders expire Friday at midnight.

On the same day last week that Gov. Steve Bullock announced the forthcoming plan, Republican legislative leaders launched a Facebook group calling for a strategy to transition out of the COVID-19 crisis.

Brad Tshcida, the Republican House Majority Leader from Missoula, speaks in one of the group’s first videos.

"We know from a variety of people how bad this coronavirus is impacting people's businesses."

As of this update, the Facebook page run by staff of the legislative majority had over 800 followers.

Gov. Bullock says Montana’s stay at home order will stay in effect through April 24, but after Friday the state will move forward with a phased reopening. What that reopening will look like is unclear.

In an email sent April 17, Bullock say that because of early and aggressive action, Montana has, "flattened the curve and we have saved lives. ... Together, we are not only saving lives, but also making it so that we will be able to reopen our state and get our economy thriving again, long before many other states will be able to.

"But let me be clear: Montana’s stay at home directive is in effect through April 24 and will stay in effect through April 24. After April 24, we will move forward with a phased reopening. We all need to understand this will be a gradual process. Because once we begin to reopen, we want to be able to stay open. Our new normal is going to look different. This virus isn’t going away and we are going to have to continue to adapt with how we live with it for the next while."

In the email, Bullock laid out some of the factors they're taking into consideration:

First, there must be a sustained reduction of new cases for at least 14 days. This is important because 14 days is the incubation period of the virus. We have been tracking our cases closely in Montana. Last week we saw a decline in new positives, and I am hopeful and confident we will see a decline this week as well.
Second, we need to make sure our hospitals are able to safely treat all patients — both COVID-19 and with other conditions — especially in our rural areas.
Third, we need to make sure we have the capacity to test all people with COVID-19 symptoms and the capacity for our state and local public health officials to conduct active monitoring of newly confirmed cases and their contacts. While our state lab has been able to sufficiently perform testing, we will need to ramp up our testing capacity further. We still, at times, have shortages with swabs and reagents, which impacts our capacity to test on the ground.

A day after Montana’s state lab registered no new coronavirus cases, the state health department today is reporting 4 new positive tests.

Gallatin County added two COVID19 cases, bringing its total to 145. It remains the state’s most afflicted county. Yellowstone and Roosevelt counties each added a case. 14 people with the illness are still being hospitalized. State deaths from the coronavirus remain at 12.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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