Gianforte rescinds most COVID-19 mandates
Last updated 1/14/2021 at 12:06pm
At a press conference Wednesdsay afternoon, Gov. Greg Gianforte announced a revision to the COVID-19 mandates of his predecessor that effectively eliminates any restrictions on gathering size, the operating hours of restaurants, bars, breweries and casinos or their in-dining-room capacity.
This new directive will go into effect Friday at 5 a.m.
Gianforte said his administration has consulted with public health experts, health care providers, and business leaders before making this decision, which he said was an effort refocus the state toward personal responsibility.
"We trust Montanan's with their health and the health of their loved ones," he said.
Hill County Public Health Director and Health Officer Kim Larson said the health department is planning to follow Governor Gianforte's directives, and work on managing the pandemic according to how he recommends.
He said while the situation is serious, recent trends in the state are encouraging with cases and hospitalizations dropping.
"But this does not account for the indirect health impacts," he said, "Increased suicide, greater drug use and abuse, and more domestic violence and child abuse. It also doesn't account for the severe economic impact of the pandemic."
Gianforte said his COVID-19 task force, which was made up of medical professionals and business owners, recommended the changes, and he also received personal input from many Montanans.
He said small business owners, non-profits, and civil leaders pointed to his predecessor's directives as a primary failing of the state's COVID-19 response and felt restrictions on capacity and hours of operation were arbitrary, and that the directives were too complicated.
Gianforte touted the fact that his new directive is three pages long, as opposed to former Gov. Bullock's which was 25.
He said businesses should follow industry best practices and create them if they don't exist, ensuring social distancing and hygiene, and mask-wearing, which his mandate still requires.
He said the directive does not change the authority of local public health departments to enact more restrictive measures, but said he believes his plan is best for most communities.
He said he encouraged Montanans to continue wearing masks and continue social distancing, but the new directive removes any limit on crowd gathering size.
"I look forward to a day where we can all remove our masks throw them in the trash and move on with out lives in a safe manner," he said.
Gianforte also talked about his recent changes to the state's vaccine distribution plan, which moved essential workers out of phase 1B and added people over the age of 70, saying Montana was ahead of the curve as the Centers for Disease Control recently changed it guidelines to include people 65 and older to be in Phase 1B.
When asked if Montana would follow suit COVID-19 Task Force Director Maj. General Matthew Quinn said they would not.
He said 75 percent of the deaths have been people 70 or older, so they will stick with that.
Gianforte said the Montana Medical Association, Montana Hospital Association the Montana Primary Care Association, the American Cancer Society, and AARP, all support his changes.
He said Montana is in the top 10 states for successful vaccine distribution, with 42,000 Montanans have gotten their first dose with half of them last week.
He said many localities are starting phase 1B which will officially begin the week of Jan. 18, and the state is on target to provide first doses to 97 percent of long-term care facilities by the end of the month.
Gianforte, in response to criticism by many teachers associations about being pushed down the list, he said the changes were made to save lives.
"I'd like to give the vaccine to everybody today, but we don't have the supply yet," he said.
In the press conference he also addressed recent concerns of events like the storming of the U.S. Capitol Building happening on Inauguration Day in Montana.
He did not give specifics about what is being done to prepare for that eventuality, but said Montanans shouldn't worry.
"We will be ready," he said.
He also addressed President Donald Trump's impeachment Wednesday for the role he played in the Capitol Building insurrection in Washington.
Gianforte said he was horrified by the events in Washington, but the focus should be on bringing people together.