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As Montana reopens, the state is working to ramp up testing and expand health care providers’ ability to manage a potential spike in patients.

Three weeks ago, Gov. Steve Bullock set a statewide goal of conducting 60,000 tests per month.

Since then, testing has increased. In late April, about 325 tests were conducted per day, according to the governor’s office. Last week, the daily average was 800.

Even with the increase, there is still a long way to go to meet the testing target. Since early March when the state announced its first COVID-19 case, Montana has conducted 29,726 tests.

The recent increase in testing is a result of new efforts to conduct surveillance testing in addition to testing those experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

Surveillance testing has been offered to about 300 nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The Department of Public Health and Human Services estimates that about 220 will participate.

Correctional facilities, state-run long-term care facilities and tribal communities are also participating in surveillance testing.

Several health care providers have reached out to the state asking if they can also do surveillance testing, according to the governor’s office. The state is reviewing those requests.

As Montana looks to lift additional restrictions on June 1, including the mandatory 14-day quarantine for out-of-state visitors, focus is now on gateway towns. There, workers will be tested as “an early warning system,” Bullock said in a press call on Tuesday.

The state is also planning to bolster contact tracing, possibly by hiring additional workers, Bullock said. As of May 1, half of the state’s cases have been identified through contact tracing, which Bullock said prevented outbreaks, particularly in smaller towns.

The governor has allocated $5 million of the $1.25 billion the state has received in federal coronavirus relief money to local and tribal health departments to improve contact tracing, along with other education, monitoring and enforcement work. So far, 82 departments — including the Gallatin City-County Health Department — have applied for the money.

With the loosening of restrictions and the likely return of visitors, Montana is also preparing for new cases by obtaining additional medical supplies.

“While the virus remains contained in Montana at this time and new cases are relatively low, we must recognize that the virus is still with us and will be for the foreseeable future,” Bullock said.

The state continues to build its stockpile of medical equipment and has been able to fulfill requests from all health care facilities that have struggled to procure equipment through normal supply chains, according to the governor’s spokesperson Marissa Perry.

The state’s stockpile has about 800,000 KN95 masks, 220,000 surgical masks, 97,000 face shields, 240,000 gloves and 60,000 gowns.

Bullock has also worked to create backup medical facilities in Billings and Kalispell as a precaution. He said that even during the virus’ peak in Montana in March, the state had adequate hospital beds and ventilators.

Since April 26 when the state began loosening restrictions, Montana has had 22 new cases of COVID-19. The state continues to meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for reopening, which state there must be a downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests in a 14-day period.

On Wednesday, there were seven new cases, all of which were in Ravalli County. The state reported 22 active cases, 440 recoveries and 16 deaths for a total of 478 cases.

Gallatin County continued to have no active cases. The county has seen 148 cases and one death.

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