HELENA - Gov. Steve Bullock said at a Friday, April 17, press briefing that his administration is in the process of developing a plan for scaling back anti-coronavirus social distancing measures as the number of new coronavirus cases declines.
"By next week we'll have a deliberate plan for reopening," he said.
Montana is currently under a number of anti-coronavirus directives that have shuttered schools, halted dine-in food service and asked residents to stay at home to the greatest extent possible. In their current form, those directives are set to expire Friday, April 24.
Bullock said Friday that following April 24 the state will move forward with a reopening process similar to the federal framework unveiled Thursday by President Donald Trump.
The federal framework specifies a three-phase approach, beginning with allowing restaurants and other public-facing businesses to reopen with social distancing requirements. In the first phase, Americans would be asked to continue avoiding social settings of more than 10 people unless they can maintain physical separation. Subsequent phases would allow bars to reopen and scale back restrictions on other businesses.
Before adopting initial phase measures, the federal framework specifies that states should document a downward trend in COVID-19 and flu-like illnesses over a 14-day period, and also have adequate hospital capacity and a "robust" testing program in place for health care workers.
Bullock said Friday that Montana observed a decline in new COVID-19 cases last week, and that he expects the same to be true this coming week. However, before Montana's reopening can begin, he said, the state should also ensure it has the ability to test people with symptoms and people who may have been exposed to the disease.
"While our state lab has been able to sufficiently perform testing, we do need to ramp up our testing capacity yet even further," he said.
Bullock, a Democrat, has come under increasing political pressure this week from Republicans who advocate swift action to reopen the state economy. Bullock has argued that a hasty stand-down from social distancing measures could put the state at risk of a renewed coronavirus surge.
"We all need to understand that this will be a gradual process, because once we begin to reopen, we want to be able to stay open," he said.