GREAT FALLS — There are officially no COVID restrictions in Cascade County as of Wednesday, March 17, 2021, as the Cascade City-County Health Department in Great Falls has removed the last two: the mask mandate, and the limit of 75% capacity on large events and gatherings.
The CCHD announced on Wednesday that for the second consecutive week, Cascade County has maintained a COVID case rate of equal to or less than 10 per 100,000. Two weeks at or below this level was the trigger for lifting restrictions in Cascade County, and this week, the CCHD said the county dropped to a rate of 9.6 per 100,000.
As a result, and effective immediately, the mask mandate and 75% capacity restrictions on events and gatherings have been lifted.
The CCHD noted: "While event size limits and the mask mandate are no longer in effect, it is critically important that our community members remember what got us to this point: social distancing, wearing face coverings, limiting capacity, and other common-sense practices like frequent hand-washing and staying home when sick. These best practices have resulted in our daily case rate dropping to the current level, and CCHD still recommends that these practices be implemented."
The CCHD also said that businesses, schools, and other agencies do still have the right to require masks for customers and visitors.
CCHD Health Officer Trisha Gardner said, "I think this is an ever-evolving situation. There's no guarantees either way. So if we see a really huge spike or anything else, then that may be something we consider again down the road.”
We asked Gardner the following questions:
Q: What, specifically (i.e. a certain number of cases), might trigger a reinstatement of restrictions?
“I think that’s something that we continually look at. It’s not that black and white unfortunately because we’re also taking into consideration things like the population. As they’ve been vaccinated, how much of the population has been vaccinated. That definitely has an impact.”
Q: Will the health department get involved in cases involving masks at businesses?
“We wouldn’t have any ability to enforce (mask mandates at businesses). However, we’re always happy to help businesses do what they can and talk through situations with them. It is definitely our recommendation that all precautions still stay in place, from keeping events smaller, limiting group sizes, limiting capacity, usage of masks."
Great Falls Public Schools released the following information:
Great Falls Public Schools has had mask protocol as part of the safe schools reopening plan that was approved by the Board of Trustees in August of 2020, prior to the state or county requirements. The current mask requirement will remain in place in all schools. As of this time, many of the 1500 employees of the School District have not been afforded the opportunity to become fully vaccinated. Until this occurs, it would not be prudent to deviate from the current practices. By and large, the sanitation and safety protocols that the District has put in place have worked this year in minimizing the spread of COVID-19 and allowed for schools to remain open. At this point it is in the best interest of our students and staff to stay the course and continue to maintain the health and safety standards that are working and in place.
Some of the reactions on our Facebook page:
- Thomas Waldner: It's a breath of fresh air to see people without it. Literally.
- Haven Aralynn: time to double mask up
- Marisa Trebas: Good thing I’m fully vaccinated
- Brittany Hayes: Folks, just because they are no longer requiring masks doesn’t mean you can’t wear one. DO YOU! But don’t get mad at others for not wearing one. It’s ultimately up to each individual.
- Carrie Smale Galvez: Still wearing one and will make my kiddo. It's a personal choice. Happy for those who have long wanted this.
- Nancy Nys: Just remember, if a business says you have to wear a mask, you need to honor their request. It is their property not yours.
- Judy Fry: I will also continue to wear a mask, personal choice, when in public.
- Heather Boberg: Thank goodness! Can't wait to see people's smiling faces!
- Suzi Snow Hoadley: That’s not good news.
- Donna Anderson: Praise God!!! Finally, smile everyone we can now see each other.
- Mary Fagg Wilhelms: Wonderful news!!! Smile, smile, smile!!
Some Great Falls business owners say they are all for restriction being lifted. Tara Beam, co-owner of Roadhouse Diner, said, “I am ecstatic. This is nice, this will give the ability to people that do want to wear the mask, they can, and those that are done wearing it are done.”
Veronica Ronnau, owner of Pizzazz, said, “I feel comfortable with it. I think that people are ready to get out and move about. the weather’s getting nicer and I think for those that want to wear a mask and can, that’s their right too. So here at Pizzazz we keep our masks on for the most part. When there’s someone in the store I’m going to follow the guidelines as far as I’m not making it mandatory but if you want to wear one you should.”
One business owner has a lot more to think about before deciding how to move forward with her store policy, - Christell Benson, owner of Bahama Mama Sweeeet Cafe in the Columbus Center, explained, “I think it’s a little too soon. I did lose my daughter to Covid, she passed away, and so I need to think about to see how we’re going to do this. It seems like we go from one extreme to the other and I don’t want to follow the crowd. i wan to be careful and I want to know that whatever I’m doing is helping not just me, but other people.”
FEBRUARY 18: CCHD outlines mask requirements