HELENA — Gov. Steve Bullock conducted a news conference with state health leaders on Wednesday to address the rise in COVID-19 cases, the status of Montana hospitals dealing with the coronavirus, and unemployment insurance funds.
Montana has reported more than 16,000 cumulative COVID cases as of Wednesday, with 5,352 cases active in the state as of Wednesday. 733 new COVID cases were reported on Wednesday, with 235 current hospitalizations.
The significant increase in cases has left several Montana hospitals strained, with 20 hospitals in the state currently caring for severe COVID patients.
Gov. Bullock announced the State will begin to publicly display information about COVID hospital capacity in an effort to provide an additional resource to the public and the healthcare community. The snapshot report will show bed capacity, beds occupied, ventilator availability, and ICU availability.
“As Governor Bullock indicated, with increased case counts we’re expecting an increase in hospitalization in the next few weeks. Unfortunately with increased cases and increased hospitalizations we also expect increases in deaths too,” said the State’s Communicable Disease Bureau Chief Jim Murphy. Murphy noted several Montana hospitals were at or near capacity recently, with some having to divert patients to other hospitals.
The reports will break down the information by each region of the state which can help area hospitals better understand what their greater community is facing.
State Medical Officer Dr. Greg Holzman told reporters that of the 2,400 new cases reported last week, more than half were in Cascade, Flathead, Gallatin, Missoula, and Yellowstone counties.
“There are risks that there will be more times when the hospitals reach capacity and will not be able to accept patients for some time,” Dr. Holzman said. “However, we know it’s paramount that care is not delayed, and when patients from a critical access hospital needs to be transferred to higher levels of care that they’re available.”
Gov. Bullock again called upon all Montanans to follow state and local guidelines, while affirming his position on leaving stricter COVID mandates in the hands of county and municipal governments.
“Pandemics don’t go away on their own and they also don’t spread on their own either,” said Gov. Bullock. “It’s our actions as Montanans that have brought our total case count to over 16,000 and to nearly 200 deaths. It’s our actions as Montanans that have stressed our hospital resources and it’s our actions as Montanans that can flatten the curve.”
Gov. Bullock also announced he’s directed $200 million of federal CARES Act funds to be transferred to the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.
The State estimates by doing so Montana businesses, who pay into unemployment insurance, will avoid an 85% spike in their tax rate.
“Montana businesses have already been hit hard once due to COVID-19 and its economic impacts. The last thing we want is to see them hit hard twice by significantly increasing unemployment insurance rates,” Gov. Bullock said. “Boosting the trust fund will have a real impact on the ground for tens of thousands of Montana businesses next year and for years to come and will play a key role in the state’s economic recovery.”
The Montana Unemployment insurance Trust Fund has been significantly tapped due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The $200 million infusion of funds will bring it back up to around $400 million in total reserves.
Gov. Bullock also called on Congress and the President to find common ground and get another COVID stimulus package passed as soon as possible to help Americans that are financially struggling.