COVID in Montana: Governor issues new guidance

Posted at 9:08 AM, Feb 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-13 13:09:32-05

Governor Greg Gianforte on Friday issued two new directives and an executive order to update policies and guidance regarding COVID in Montana. The first directive rescinds and replaces all prior directives implementing Executive Order 2-2021, which the governor issued on January 13, 2021.

The new directive allows the statewide mask mandate to expire, and notes that local jurisdictions may still choose to implement their own mask requirements.

Ahead of Friday's directives, several county and municipal agencies have already announced they intend to keep some restrictions:

CASCADE COUNTY: Cascade County removed its January 6 mask mandate on January 21. If the Cascade County Board of Health decides to implement a mask mandate, that requirement would stay in place even if the other COVID restrictions are lifted. Click here to read more about the Cascade County situation. Trisha Gardner of the City-County Health Department in Great Falls told MTN News:

"The Board of Health is planning to convene a special meeting early next week, so there is the possibility of a local order going into place. It is absolutely my recommendation that everyone continue wearing masks, no matter what Directives/Orders are in place.

Additionally, businesses, schools, and other agencies do have the ability to implement their own policies regarding face coverings should they wish to do so.”

Great Falls Public Schools posted the following message on Thursday: "Great Falls Schools has had a Mask requirement in place as part of our school re-opening plan that was approved by our School Board in August of 2020. At this point the mask protocol for the district will remain in place until the CCHD has met and until our board has had a chance to consider any recommendations that staff would bring before them, if any, for changes in our plan at the next regularly scheduled board meeting."

Gianforte reiterated that providing incentives and encouraging personal responsibility are more effective than imposing what he called "impractical, unenforceable government mandates."

On February 10, Governor Gianforte signed S.B. 65 into law, which provides a liability shield to businesses, nonprofits, and others who protect their workers, their customers, and their clients from the spread of COVID-19.

The state remains in Phase 1B of its vaccine distribution plan, which the governor updated on January 6 to protect the most vulnerable Montanans, including people 70 years of age and older, Montanans 16 years of age and older who have severe underlying medical conditions, and Native Americans and other persons of color who are at a heightened risk of severe COVID-19-related complications.

In keeping with Gianforte’s January 13 directive which removed restrictions on hours of service and capacity for businesses, Friday's directive continues to encourage businesses to adopt industry best practices or public health guidance to protect employees and customers.

The news release also says that Friday's directive also continues to promote the use of telehealth services, protect Montanans from eviction or foreclosure, ease licensing for healthcare professionals, and reduce regulatory burdens.

The second directive repeals the election-related directive dated August 6, 2020. The governor also issued Executive Order 3-2021 which rescinds Executive Order 15-2018.

“Our Constitution makes it plain as day: the Legislature makes our laws, not the governor and not the courts,” Governor Gianforte said. “It’s the responsibility of our Legislature to determine how Montana’s elections are conducted, and it’s the responsibility of our Legislature to determine whether an individual must disclose donations to a nonprofit group.”

“These issues are up to the Legislature now, which is where they should have been decided all along,” Gianforte said.