Gov. Gianforte lifts statewide mask mandate
In this Feb. 10, 2021 file photo Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte speaks with the press in the State Capitol in Helena, Mont. Montana's statewide mask mandate has been lifted by Gianforte. The Republican governor said Friday, Feb. 12, 2021 he made the decision because he thinks enough vulnerable Montana residents have been vaccinated against COVID-19. (Thom Bridge/Independent Record via AP)
| February 12, 2021 2:00 AM
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana's statewide mask mandate that had been in place since July was lifted Friday by Gov. Greg Gianforte, but some cities and counties are keeping local mask requirements because they think the governor's move was premature.
Gianforte, a Republican, promised the day after assuming office in January that he would lift the state's mask mandate once there were liability protections in place for businesses and health care providers, and once enough vulnerable Montana residents were vaccinated against COVID-19.
The governor said this week that both requirements had been met. Gianforte said he would continue to wear a mask and urged others to do so.
"To combat the virus, providing incentives and promoting personal responsibility are more effective than imposing impractical government mandates," he said earlier this week.
Among those keeping local mask rules are Lewis and Clark County, Gallatin County, Butte County, Missoula County, and the city of Whitefish.
Some public health officials are saying the state still hasn't vaccinated enough vulnerable people to safely lift the mask mandate.
Fewer than 47,000 people in the state had received both doses of the vaccine as of Friday, according to state figures.
According to the state's public health department, 250,000 Montana residents are eligible for the vaccine under the second distribution phase, which includes those 70 or older, those with severe underlying health conditions, and people of color at a greater risk from contracting the virus.
"We've got thousands of Montanans who can't get a vaccine and they're vulnerable because they're seniors or because they have underlying health conditions," said Gallatin County Health Officer Matt Kelley, calling the governor's decision "confusing and concerning."
Gianforte's announcement came as the Centers for Disease Control reaffirmed the importance of wearing masks, saying earlier in the week that face coverings remain an important tool to combat the spread of the virus.
Montana joins several states that have repealed their statewide mask requirement since the onside of the pandemic, including most recently Iowa, where the governor lifted the requirement last week despite advice to the contrary from the White House COVID-19 Response Team.