Gianforte eases COVID-19 restrictions on businesses

Wire And Staff Reports
Thursday, January 14, 2021

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte announced Wednesday that he is removing existing health mandates issued by his predecessor, saying the restrictions are harmful to the state’s businesses.

Gianforte, a Republican, said his goal is to move away from specific mandates and toward “personal responsibility.”

Under the new rules, which take effect Friday, restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries and casinos will no longer be required to close at 10 p.m., a requirement put in place by Democratic former Gov. Steve Bullock in November as the state reached an apex in daily reported COVID-19 cases.

Gianforte also removed capacity limits for businesses, instead encouraging them to follow public health guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and industry groups. Under the Bullockissued rule, restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries and casinos were limited to 50% capacity.

“We are pretty pleased with things going back to normal,” said Jake Elwood, manager at the Montana Bar. “We have already seen an uptick in customers coming in, so its about as back to normal as it probably going to be until summer. These two months are our slower months of the year.”

The Yellowstone Tavern and Tilt Wurks voiced similar feelings.

“It’s a super thing that he is doing, its a good thing for us small businesses,” said Yellowstone Tavern manager Rob Christopherson. “It’s been a struggle lately, with limiting how many people can come in. Without a doubt I expect business to pick up with these changes going into effect.”

According to Angeleah Jones, manager at Tilt Wurks, she hopes it will effect things for the better.

“We will hopefully be able to get more people in, being able to bring all of our seating back. I think lately a lot of the fear and stigma around everything isn’t as bad as it once was and people are starting to come out more,” said Jones.

The new rules remove limits on the size of public gatherings. The previous regulation stated that gatherings where social distancing isn’t possible were limited to 25 people.

Counties are still permitted to issue stricter local health mandates. Health officials in some counties, including Gallatin and Missoula, have indicated they intend to keep in place certain stricter local measures that are currently in place, including gathering-size limits and capacity limits for certain businesses.

A statewide mask mandate issued in July remains in place. Gianforte said last week that he would keep the requirement until more vulnerable people received the COVID-19 vaccine and the Legislature passed a law protecting businesses and health care providers from coronavirus-related lawsuits.

“I look forward to a day when we can all take off our masks, throw them in the trash and get on with our lives in a safe manner,” Gianforte said on Wednesday. “Until we get there, I continue to choose to wear a mask and I encourage others to do the same.”

So far, 42,000 Montana residents have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, the governor said.

The next phase of the vaccine distribution, which will cover Montana residents ages 70 and older and those with underlying health conditions, will begin the week of Jan. 18, Gianforte said, adding that lowering the age threshold would be “a logical next step” as the state progresses in the vaccination effort.

Montana health officials have reported nearly 88,000 COVID-19 cases since the onset of the pandemic, including 597 new cases reported on Wednesday. The state has reported 1,069 deaths related to the virus. Of those deaths, 75% have been of individuals ages 70 and older.

The number of people hospitalized with the virus in Montana has dipped below 200 after reaching more than 400 in November.

“That could spike back up. We’re not out of the woods yet, but the trend is encouraging,” Gianforte said.

Custer County currently has 35 active cases.

There have been a total of 1,061 cases in the county with 1,015 who have recovered.

There have been 11 deaths in the county from COVID-19.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.