Guest Post: On the Phase One Re-Opening of Montana

I’ve been asked by several people to comment on the recent Phase One reopening of Montana:

Because of the bifurcation of American politics into pro and anti-science camps, the Democratic Party need not outperform to appear outperforming. The bar is so low with today’s Republican Party—beholden to Trumpism—that any randomly picked person off the street corner is likely to outperform our Steve Daines, our Greg Gianforte.  I am thankful neither person was Montana’s Governor during this global pandemic; the needed social distancing orders would have been delayed and partisan-driven, the reopening of our state premature.

The Governor’s team certainly has information that the layperson does not, which should humble, to an extent, external criticism.

It’s also true that a dismal federal response is driving states to make decisions that they might otherwise not. For instance, pressure to reopen the economy would be far less if the federal commitment to small businesses and their employees had been greater.

I’m also not a typical politician. I dislike blatant opportunism. (For example, jumping in a U.S. Senate race only after the stock market has crashed, a global pandemic has set in, the incumbent’s approval numbers have weakened, and a “palatable” moderate has been confirmed as the presumptive presidential nominee.)

But one gap is clear, based on the Governor’s own COVID-19 dashboard: the number of tests administered in Montana has been less than 12,000, equating to a roughly 1% test rate in our state.


Moreover, the tests have apparently been limited to virus testing – versus antibodies testing, which can identify those previously infected. (By some estimates, 30% of virus tests yield erroneous results, false negatives or false positives.)

In turn, we know the scope of tested symptomatic virus carriers in Montana, while having little to no grasp of asymptomatic virus carriers, untested symptomatic virus carriers, or those previously infected and recovered.

Summary to date:

  • 1.14% tested in Montana
  • Potentially, 30% test inaccuracy
  • Little to no antibodies testing

It’s tough to second guess someone when there is such asymmetry in information. As a common citizen, I am not privy to all of the data. But, it’s difficult to see the wisdom in opening up Montana’s economy and our schools, independent of social distancing (given the tenacity of the virus in the air and on surfaces), without more virus testing, antibodies testing, infrastructure to contact trace, and understanding of asymptomatic carriers.

I’d strongly recommend waiting until late May or early June (given 28 March Stay at Home order) – or later if new information affects that decision – before moving into “Phase One” of reopening Montana. (There’s a basis for this: for the median-size family staying at home, that would give the virus ample time to transmit member-to-member and to manifest symptoms prior to contact with others.)

By late May or early June, additional testing could occur, contact tracing capacity could be built out, and we could learn more on asymptomatic carriers and how long they can shed the virus (important but yet unknown). Finally, out-of-state workers – for instance, for the questionable Keystone XL oil pipeline – could be told to stand down.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

John Mues

John Mues is a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate in Montana. A fourth-generation Montanan, he is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and London Business School, senior engineer in the business sector, and former Montana high school math and English teacher on the Ft. Belknap Indian Reservation, Montana cattle ranch owner, and four-times deployed U.S. Navy officer.


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  • As a retired teacher like you John I totally agree. It is impossible to social distance a school with large classes, cafeterias, hallways and gym. Can you imagine a 10 year old wearing a mask all day?

    • I don’t know if many schools will reopen. Maybe those way out there like Circle or Jordan or others in counties with no one sick enough to have been tested.

  • I’m a massage therapist and we’re supposed to open in Phase 1, wearing a mask if practical. This is counter to the White House guidelines – and yes, I am loathe to give this WH any credit for anything, but they are right as it pertains to my profession.

    I work in tight, confined spaces for an hour or more and with no ability to physical distance. Under those cirucumstances, the CDC would suggest that, for my safety and my client’s safety, I be tricked out in all the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that is in short supply for the front line responders. The experts in my industry assert that we shouldn’t even begin to think about going back to work until Phase 3.

    I agree that the governor is doing a good job and is very measured in his approach, but with my profession, he’s dropped the ball and is endangering the public.

    FYI, I am former chair of the Montana Board of Massage Therapy and run a policy think tank called LMT Body Politic.

    • @Ms Kimmet – Thank you for a rational, considered viewpoint, clearly expressed. Your concern for your clients is solidly based, and you make the crucial point that for you to resume your professional activity would detract from the availability of critical materials for first-line providers.

  • John I think the number that really means something is 14.

    That’s the number of deaths blamed on Coronavirus in Montana.

    That’s not enough to justify ruining all the small businesses in the State.

    Our Governor should have known this, and I’m sure he did, but since he has always been a girly-man he has to wait for instructions from his handlers.

    In the Navy he would be a Blivet.

    Good luck in your race – I would vote for you over Bullock any day.

      • Nope – I enlisted in the AF in 1979, but they tossed me on a medical issue.

        Bullock could never be a Naval Office – they live by an honor code. He is without honor.

        • @E – I don’t think you’re the one to be passing judgment on anyone’s “honor.” The people and ideas you have supported here barely qualify as human.

          That medical issue – bone spurs?

  • John –

    I’m also a former teacher. I taught graduate finance and special ed and the gifted.
    Today, I would like to ask you to drop out of the Senate race and not be an impediment to our removal of Steve Daines from the US Senate. Steve Bullock is recognizable as an honorable and truthful leader and stands a very good chance of winning in November. You’re a nice guy. But you are not going to be viable
    in either the primary or the general election. We can’t afford an “also ran” this time.

    Best wishes to you and your family, and welcome back to Montana.


    • Philip, thanks for your emails and phone calls to me since Governor Bullock’s U.S. Senate announcement and your comment here.

      But please get your facts right. And no need to welcome me back to Montana. I’ve never left, unless you regard my service to country in uniform overseas and in a combat zone – all as an official Montana resident – as being away.

      Or, perhaps you’ve confused me with a former 2020 Democratic U.S. Senate candidate who hadn’t lived in Montana for over 30 years, falsely self-describing as “4th generation”, parachuting in from Los Angeles for the race.

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