HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said Friday he plans to begin a phased re-opening the state's economy after April 24, when the current stay-at-home directives expire, but he didn't provide specifics about what that means.
Details about plans to begin easing restrictions that have been in place for several weeks will be announced by the middle of next week, Bullock said.
The governor said he's been working with business leaders and public health experts to determine how the state's economy could be re-opened while keeping people safe and avoiding another outbreak of coronavirus.
“I know that this crisis is hurting Montana and Montanans,” he said. "But I also know if we get this wrong it’ll hurt us even more.”
His announcement came a day after President Donald Trump offered federal guidance for re-opening state economies, based on two weeks of declining COVID-19 cases among other factors, including having adequate testing, sufficient hospital capacity and enough personal protective equipment for health care workers.
Montana has been seeing a downward trend in COVID-19 cases since its high of 35 new cases reported on March 26. By this weekend, Bullock said Montana should have met the requirement of two weeks of declining cases.
Because Montanans took the stay-at-home and social distancing directives so seriously, the state is in a position to begin re-opening its economy “in a time when a whole lot of states still won’t be able to," Bullock said.
“Even as we reopen facets or remove some of these directives, there will be expectations of things like social distancing and masks,” Bullock said.
Schools wouldn't be open under the first phase of easing restrictions, but Bullock said local school districts could make their own decisions.
The two Republican members of Montana’s congressional delegation have also called for the state to ease coronavirus-related restrictions and stop the economic damage caused by widespread closures in response to the pandemic.
U.S. Sen. Steve Daines said during a telephone conference call Friday that Montana meets the criteria laid out by Trump's guidelines. “Workers and families and small businesses are suffering. So I believe it is time to safely reopen Montana again.”
Earlier this week, Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte told the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce that he’d like to see the state open back up in weeks, rather than months.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said the federal government needs to provide more testing supplies and personal protective equipment to Montana to allow the economy to re-open safely.
For most people, coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
Montana has seen at least 422 COVID-19 cases and 10 deaths.
Toole County, which reported its fourth death on Thursday, reported three new cases of COVID-19, bringing its total to 29. County health officials said the virus had spread to another health care facility but did not name the it.
In other coronavirus-related developments
— The 2020 Governor’s Cup running races scheduled for June 13 in Helena have been canceled due to the coronavirus. Organizers said they couldn’t be certain they could safely host the races. The event brings about 4,000 runners, including about 400 from out-of-state, to compete, at various distances, to a marathon. About 300 volunteers are involved, as well, organizers said.
— The Montana Folk Festival, which draws tens of thousands of people to Butte for three days in July, has been canceled this year due to the coronavirus, George Everett, festival director, told The Montana Standard. Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive Dave Palmer said he and others were concerned that July would be too soon to draw people to Butte from all over the country.