Credit: Eliza Wiley/MTFP

HELENA — A member of Gov. Greg Gianforte’s staff tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday morning after becoming symptomatic Sunday, according to a spokesperson for the governor. This is the second governor’s office staffer publicly reported to have tested positive for the virus since early February.

The news comes a week after Gianforte and first lady Susan Gianforte tested positive for the virus after traveling to Bozeman for Easter weekend. The two have since been isolating in their Bozeman home. The governor is reported to have had mild symptoms while Susan Gianforte has been described as asymptomatic.

Following Gianforte’s positive test, staff members from his office were tested in Helena last Tuesday morning and received negative results. The staff member who tested positive Monday had reportedly received a test and a negative result last Friday, the day they were last in the office. Stroyke did not identify the positive staff member but said the person was “not a close contact of the governor, a legislator, or staff.” Members of the governor’s staff who were physically present at the Capitol on Monday and Tuesday took additional tests and received negative results, Stroyke said.

After the 10-day period of isolation, the governor is expected to return to Helena as soon as Wednesday. The governor’s staff on Tuesday evening would not comment on specific medications or treatments that Gianforte has taken since his symptoms appeared, but confirmed that he has not been hospitalized or traveled anywhere for medical care. 

“Like many Montanans who have contracted COVID-19, the governor listened to his doctor, will have quarantined for ten days, and has recovered,” said Stroyke. “The governor feels fortunate that his symptoms were mild.”

Since his election, the governor has encouraged the use of masks and social distancing for visitors to his office, as well as frequent testing for staff members. Within the Capitol, however, Gianforte’s own mask usage has been mixed when conducting official business, as has that of Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras. The governor also rolled back some statewide COVID-19 restrictions that were put in place by former Gov. Steve Bullock and repealed the statewide mask mandate that was in effect, leaving those restrictions up to county health officials.

As the governor prepares to return to Helena, Stroyke said the office’s listed safety protocols will remain in place while the frequency of COVID-19 testing will increase. She did not directly address whether the governor plans to take a test to confirm he is no longer positive for the virus before returning to work in Helena, but referenced CDC guidelines that do not recommend such a step.

Montana reported 198 new cases and 51 active hospitalizations for the virus on Tuesday as other parts of the country are seeing upticks in new cases prompted by a higher number of virus variants. 250,643 Montanans have been fully immunized, roughly a quarter of the state’s total population. 

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Mara covers Montana’s social welfare, criminal justice and legal systems. She also tracks policy and social issues that affect LGBTQ+ people. Prior to joining Montana Free Press, Mara worked at Slate and WNYC, where she focused on radio and podcasts. She got her start in audio journalism as an intern at Montana Public Radio. Contact Mara at msilvers@montanafreepress.org, 406-465-3386 ext. 3, and follow her on Twitter.