Today, I outlined our framework to ramp up testing capacity in Montana over the next several months. Our goal is to eventually conduct 60,000 tests per month and prioritize testing for vulnerable Montanans in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, tribal communities, and those with COVID-19 symptoms.
Our state public health lab’s quick turnaround time has made it possible to isolate positive cases and conduct follow-up work with local public health to quarantine individuals in contact with positive cases, this is known as “contact tracing.”
This commitment to public health and the ability to closely follow and mitigate the spread of the virus has led us to where we are today. This week so far, Montana has only added 5 new cases.
As Montana enters phase one of a gradual reopening, our work is not done.
Today, I outlined my testing framework to ramp up testing in Montana.
First and foremost, I am establishing a long-term testing target of 60,000 tests per month.
The federal government has committed to the states that it will supply 12.7 million swabs every month beginning in May. These testing supplies will be secured through public and private partnerships among the federal government, states, and private labs.
Last week, we secured 5,000 swabs from FEMA. This week, thus far we have secured 10,000 swabs from FEMA with another 7,000 expected to arrive today. Additionally, we received 3,000 swabs from the private side.
My team and I will continue working every day toward a consistent supply chain of swabs and other testing materials. Our ability to reach long-term testing targets over the coming months relies on the availability of these testing supplies.
While we work to ramp up testing to reach our long-term testing target, there are additional steps we will be taking.
- First, we are continuing to ask providers to test anyone with one or more symptoms of COVID-19.
- Second, we will be testing residents and employees in nursing homes and assisted living facilities within the next month.
- Third, beginning in May, we will conduct testing of small samples of symptomatic and asymptomatic populations in Montana’s tribal communities.
- And finally, as testing becomes more widely available, we will be partnering with Community Health Centers to test frontline workers and further conduct general population testing.
As we engage in greater testing among vulnerable populations, we have established five strike teams to help in the event we have positive tests.
Each team is made up of a certified nurse and five National Guard members who can be deployed across Montana. Beginning in May, the teams will be available to provide assistance to nursing homes, long-term care facilities, and tribal communities in the event of a COVID-9 positive test.
Furthermore, using available CARES Act dollars, I will be establishing a $5 million grant program for local public health offices.
These dollars can be used by local public health offices to help establish enhanced COVID-19 contact tracing programs.
The dollars can also be used by public health officials working with local businesses to develop plans to reopen that follow necessary physical distancing protocols.
While we work to ramp up testing capacity, recognize that this virus is and will continue to be in Montana for the foreseeable future.
As we continue to do our part at the state and in working with the federal government, Montanans must continue to do their part, too.
As Montanans begin to make their way back to socially distanced church services, as businesses begin to reopen their doors and as Montanans enjoy a locally brewed beer in the backyard with a friend or neighbor, we must continue to treat this virus with the same vigilance as before.
In addition to washing hands, maintaining social distance and sanitizing, I strongly encourage Montanans to wear a non-medical face covering when in public, especially in grocery stores or other places where social distancing isn’t practical. It is with these simple precautions during phase one that we can protect our neighbors.
As we create and begin to navigate this new normal together, we must remain flexible, vigilant and patient, because life will still be much different than it was before this virus.
I want to thank you for your continued vigilance and commitment to keeping Montana healthy and safe during this challenging time.
I also thank our hard-working frontline health care workers – our nurses, doctors, and hospital staff, our experts at the state lab, our state epidemiologists and local public health experts – for their efforts to keep Montanans safe and healthy.
Thank you for your comments to my office. It is important for me to hear from you and the needs of your community while we continue to work together to keep Montanans safe while reopening our economy.