HELENA — Gov. Greg Gianforte says he will let Montana’s statewide mask mandate expire as of Friday.
“As I’ve said, we will continue to provide incentives to protect the health and safety of Montanans, and we will emphasize personal responsibility over mandates,” he said.
He made the announcement Wednesday, at a bill-signing ceremony for Senate Bill 65. Gianforte had previously identified the bill as a necessary first step before he’d consider lifting the mandate.
SB 65 limits when businesses, health care providers and other organizations can be sued over a potential exposure to COVID-19. It also allows those groups to claim a defense if they took “reasonable measures” based on public health guidance about COVID.
“This is a significant step in getting Montana safely open for business,” he said. “These protections are common-sense, and they’ll go a long way to getting our economy going again.”
Gianforte said he wanted to wait to lift the mask mandate until more vulnerable Montanans had received a vaccine. He said, with counties now vaccinating people over 70 and pharmacies conducting vaccine clinics at all of the state’s long-term care facilities, that requirement has been met. He also pointed to the continued drop in active COVID-19 cases across the state.
Gianforte said he will release a new directive on Friday morning, to implement the change. He said, while the state mandate will end, local jurisdictions may choose to continue their own mask mandates.
The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services announced Wednesday that the state will receive another 16,425 first doses of COVID vaccines from the federal government next week, and 13,525 second doses. However, Gianforte said the state can still deliver more vaccines than it has available, and he again called on federal authorities to increase Montana’s allocation.
Wednesday’s signing was Gianforte’s first bill signing ceremony as governor. However, he previously signed one other bill into law – House Bill 1, the “feed bill” that provides funding for the legislative session.