Bullock to apply federal funds, supplies to ramp up testing, contact tracing

Gov. Steve Bullock on Wednesday outlined his plans to ramp up COVID-19 testing over the next several months with the goal of conducting as many as 60,000 tests per month.

The effort would also prioritize testing for vulnerable people in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, tribal communities and those with COVID-19 symptoms.

During a news conference, Bullock established five “strike teams” made up of a certified nurse and members of the National Guard to be deployed across Montana to respond to COVID-19 cases. Areas of focus include longterm care facilities and nursing homes.

Bullock said he would apply roughly $5 million in funding from the CARES Act to begin a grant program for local health departments and tribal facilities to enhance existing efforts to increase contact tracing. The funds would also support local businesses and help them develop plans to reopen while adhering to social distancing guidelines.

Last week, the state received 5,000 swabs from FEMA and 10,000 more swabs on Tuesday to begin more testing. Another 7,000 swabs from FEMA are expected to arrive this week. Bullock also secured 3,000 swabs from a private vendor that arrived this week.

Bullock said that with a consistent supply chain of swabs and other testing materials, including reagents, Montana can quickly scale up its testing. That may be key as most of the state begins to reopen. The state lab will prioritize processing tests for those experiencing symptoms related to the virus.