Bullock to give next governor COVID playbook; ‘Leave politics out of it’

Gov. Steve Bullock, right, meets with health officials in Missoula in this file photo. Bullock on Tuesday said politics have no place in a pandemic and said he’d give the next governor a playbook of lessons learned. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file photo)

As the campaign season enters its final stretch and November draws near, the COVID-19 pandemic is holding on strong and isn’t likely to end with the election.

Whatever the outcome in November, politics shouldn’t play a role when protecting public health and the economy, Gov. Steve Bullock said on Tuesday.

“This is the largest public health challenge we’ve faced in a century, and it’s the largest economic challenge we’ve faced in a century,” Bullock said. “We should leave the politics out of the it. But not everyone feels that way.”

Bullock, who appeared as a morning guest during the Big Sky Business Insight Summit, said he’ll ensure Montana’s next governor receives a playbook of “lessons learned” throughout the COVID-19 crisis, and has access to the state’s public health experts.

Bullock’s term ends this year and Republican Greg Gianforte and Democrat Mike Cooney are in a close race to replace him. Bullock said public health and the economy should supersede political ideology, regardless of who replaces him and what party the next governor represents.

The next administration will be charged with distributing a vaccine once it’s tested and made available.

“We know there’s two ways we’re going to get out of this, and one is a widely accepted vaccine,” Bullock said. “We don’t want to rush that. We want to make sure it’s going to be effective. At the state level, we’ve always prepared and will be ready for large scale vaccine distribution.”

Bullock said the state’s universities, testing facilities and public health experts have assisted his decisions at various points during the pandemic. From the initial order to stay at home to the struggle to find testing equipment and supplies, he said many lessons were learned along the way.

“I’m going to give the next administration everything that I’ve learned and the road map to go forward,” Bullock said. “But there’s also some decisions that have to be made. I want to give them the blueprint – our best knowledge – and the encouragement to really look at this as a public health and economic crisis, not the political challenges that have become so infused.”

Funding provided by the CARES Act will expire on Dec. 31. If Congress fails to renew it, the next administration will have decisions to make.

But Bullock said the state’s biomedical labs, hospitals, universities and public health officers will be ready to help craft a response, just as they’ve done since March.

“Hopefully the next administration will lean on them not only for the assets, but for the information sharing and pushing out what those infectious disease docs say to do to make sure that in a time of great uncertainty, that we have as seamless a transition as possible,” Bullock said.

“The state and our local communities cannot drop the ball on this. There’s just too much at stake, both from a health side and an economic side.”

Bullock said politics have found their way into the pandemic.

“That disconnect is something we continue to battle with a little bit,” he said. “This virus doesn’t care about politics. It just wants to find a host, and it wants to be able to spread. We know what the best practices are. Public health should never have political divides.”