Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte on Friday lifted the state’s mask mandate, fulfilling a campaign promise he made last month.
The move, announced on Wednesday, comes in the form of a new directive that rescinds and replaces all previous directives implementing Executive Order 2-2021 (pdf), which the Republican governor issued on Jan. 13.
The new directive (pdf) allows Montana’s statewide mask mandate to expire, but still allows local governments to have their own mask mandates to reduce the spread of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes COVID-19.
Gianforte said in a statement that his criteria were met for ending the mask mandate, which had been in place since July 2020 as issued by former Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat. Gianforte is encouraging people to continue to wear a mask despite the mandate having expired.
“Since January 5th, I have provided a clear, consistent path to rescinding the mask mandate,” Gianforte said in a statement. “First, we need to start getting the vaccine to our most vulnerable. Second, we need to protect businesses, nonprofits, places of worship, and health care providers from lawsuits if they make a good faith effort to protect individuals from the spread of coronavirus and follow clear public health guidelines. We have met both criteria, and the statewide mandate expires today.”
On Wednesday, Gianforte signed Senate Bill 65 (pdf) to enact a COVID-19 liability shield law, providing protection for various businesses and groups from lawsuits if they follow local health guidelines.
Local mask mandates remain in Missoula, Gallatin, Butte-Silver Bow, and Lewis and Clark counties. Whitefish also has a citywide mask mandate.
The Montana Nurses Association on Thursday was critical of the measure. In a statement to news outlets, the group’s executive director Vicky Byrd said, “In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic that continues to infect an average of 273 Montanans every day and with new variants of the coronavirus being reported almost every week, our governor decides to back away from one of the actions most effective at stopping the spread of the virus: wearing a face mask.”
“The governor’s lifting of the mask mandate directly contradicts the latest guidelines from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),” Byrd added, noting that the federal agency had just recommended that two masks be worn to slow spread of the CCP virus variants “that may be more contagious than the original virus.”
Montana is in Phase 1B of its vaccine distribution plan (pdf), the governor’s office announced. Gianforte updated the vaccination distribution plan on Jan. 5 “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.”