HELENA – A Montana resident who called the COVID-19 pandemic a “sham-demic” and mocked mask wearers said he is now taking the pandemic seriously after contracting the virus.
Gilbert Herrera of Butte and his partner Gina Sandon spoke about their experience fighting the respiratory virus, which included hospitalizations and long periods of isolation, during a news conference with Gov. Steve Bullock Thursday.
Herrera said that before he contracted COVID-19 in September, he was opposed to wearing masks and would “mask-shame” people who chose to wear them.
Now, Herrera said he is “a firm believer” in the risks of the pandemic. “I would just rather play it safe,” he said.
Bullock for weeks has spoken in favor of wearing masks, which are required in Montana counties with four or more active cases of the virus.
Ahead of Halloween celebrations, Bullock said no candy would be handed out at the governor’s mansion, where governors have traditionally distributed thousands of pieces of candy to little ghosts and goblins. He urged Montana residents to take precautions if they choose to celebrate Halloween, but stopped short from advising against handing out candy, even as the virus continues to spread in the state.
Bullock and Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney tested negative for COVID-19 Thursday, after a second staff member in the governor’s office was diagnosed with the virus, Bullock said. Bullock and Cooney are not considered close contacts of the infected individuals, but four additional staff members who are have been quarantined.
Bullock and Cooney were first tested Wednesday, and will continue to undergo regular testing, the governor said.
Five teams of five nurses each will travel to Montana in the coming weeks to assist in providing health care services in rural parts of the state, the governor announced. The teams, provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will remain for 30 days.
“With increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases across Montana, this increases the likelihood of healthcare workers becoming infected with the virus or having to quarantine for being a close contact,” Bullock said, adding that the teams will ensure rural clinics continue to provide care.
Three of the teams will arrive in Montana next week and will be stationed along the Hi-Line and in eastern Montana. Two additional teams will arrive after they finish responding to Hurricane Zeta, Bullock said. The exact locations where the teams will be stationed haven’t been decided, he added.
The state tallied 891 newly confirmed cases of the respiratory virus Thursday, bringing the total reported case count in the state to over 30,000. The number of cases is thought to be far higher because not everyone has been tested and people can have COVID-19 without showing any symptoms.
The state has reported at least 337 deaths related to the virus, and 373 people are currently hospitalized with it.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
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