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Gov. Steve Bullock announced Wednesday a statewide goal of conducting 60,000 coronavirus tests each month.

Beginning next week, the state will test residents and employees at nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The sites will then be regularly monitored.

Next month, the state will expand its focus to tribal communities where it will conduct surveillance testing, which is testing a representative sample of the population to help officials better understand the virus.

Once testing becomes more available, the state will turn its focus to surveillance testing frontline workers and the general population.

There is no deadline for meeting the testing goal.

Increasing the state’s testing is contingent upon receiving adequate supplies, which has been difficult, Bullock said.

Montana has conducted 13,528 tests since early March when the state announced its first COVID-19 case. Bullock acknowledged that ramping up to 60,000 tests per month — a figure he said was based on recommendations from public health experts — is “a tall order.”

The state had recorded 451 cases with 382 recoveries, 16 deaths and five active hospitalizations as of Wednesday morning. There were no new cases reported. Gallatin County announced it no longer had any active cases. A total of 145 residents have recovered from COVID-19 in the county and one has died.

Bullock acknowledged that some COVID-19 cases may be undetected because asymptomatic people could be spreading the disease. But he said public health experts are confident the prevalence of COVID-19 is low in Montana because there are few cases, hospitalization rates have declined and only 3%-4% of tests are positive, which is below the national average.

Montana’s Public Health Laboratory will continue to prioritize tests for those experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. On Wednesday, Bullock urged health care providers to test anyone with symptoms, including the new ones — chills, shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and new loss of smell or taste — that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced this week.

Bullock said the lab has released test results promptly and local public health departments have been able to conduct contact tracing for everyone who has tested positive. The lab’s and health departments’ work has helped Montana slow the spread of COVID-19, Bullock said.

To continue to limit new cases, Bullock has established five strike teams, which include a certified nurse and National Guard members who can be deployed across Montana to respond to COVID-19 cases in long-term care facilities or to provide training and assistance with infectious disease control protocols.

Using money from the federal coronavirus relief bill, Bullock is creating a $5 million grant program for local health departments, tribal public health and urban Indian clinics to improve contact tracing, support local businesses in developing reopening plans and increase education or enforcement.

Matt Kelley, Gallatin City-County Health Officer, said in a press call on Friday that Gallatin County has expanded how much contact tracing it can do. He said the health department can now investigate 18 cases each day for a “sustained period” and up to 24 cases for a short period if there is a spike. Kelley cautioned that if cases were to increase quickly, the county wouldn’t be able to perform contact tracing.

The new effort to track the virus comes as Bullock begins to lift statewide restrictions. People can now gather in groups of 10, churches can offer services and retail businesses can reopen. Next Monday, bars and restaurants will be allowed to open.

“We must continue to treat the virus with vigilance as we have up until now,” Bullock said. “The more protective actions that Montanans take now and in the coming weeks, the more likely that we’re going to keep that curve flattened, the more likely that we can deploy resources to where they’re needed to conduct enhanced surveillance testing.”

Bullock continues to recommend that Montanans practice social distancing, wash their hands regularly and wear a nonmedical face covering when in public.

Visitors from other states must continue to self-quarantine for 14 days after entering Montana. The National Guard remains stationed at major airports and railroad stations, checking passengers’ temperatures.

There is no plan for when additional restrictions will be lifted.

“We will assess what the virus is doing, how people are behaving, do we have the medical capacity that we need to make an informed decision,” Bullock said. “There’s no way to say, ‘It’ll happen on X day’ until we actually see what happens over these next two weeks.”

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Perrin Stein can be reached at or at 582-2648.