Statewide Mask Mandate Lifts, but Some Local Measures Remain in Place
March 3, 2021
On Friday, February 12, Governor Greg Gianforte lifted the statewide mask mandate that was put in place by his predecessor Steve Bullock and has been in effect since July. Given that Gianforte emphasizes personal responsibility over mandates, many residents in Blaine County are curious about the impact of that stance for our area and whether a new order will be issued by local health authorities.
The Governor's decision came after he signed Senate Bill 65 into law on February 10. The new law shields businesses, health care providers, nonprofit organizations, and places of worship from coronavirus-related lawsuits, provided they take reasonable measures to protect individuals from COVID-19.
Jana McPherson-Hauer, Blaine County Health Department's Health Supervisor and Lead Local Health Official, told reporters on February 16, that Blaine County's local order officially expired with the new governor's announcement.
However, because the litigation protections signed by Governor Gianforte on February 10 do not protect government agencies or schools, the mask requirement will continue to remain in effect for all county buildings. "That means anyone visiting the courthouse, annex building, libraries in Chinook or Harlem, Commercial Building on the fairgrounds, or any other county owned building will be required to wear a mask."
According to McPherson-Hauer, the schools will also need to continue to follow Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines as well as recommendations from Montana's Office of Public Instruction (OPI).
Until they have more information, Superintendent for Chinook School District, Darin Hannum said, "We are continuing our current policy. We have a special board meeting on Monday, February 22 to further discuss the situation, so we will see what happens on Monday."
Regarding vaccination numbers, McPherson-Hauer stated, "As soon as allocations are made, we get the vaccines out as quickly and efficiently as possible. We are doing our best to protect those most vulnerable populations."
McPherson-Hauer went on to say that Blaine County's COVID-19 numbers are looking good. "We had downward trends in both January and so far in February, and we were able to report 'no new cases' for a couple of days in a row."
Although McPherson-Hauer explained that multiple factors contribute to that trend, she named a number of mitigation strategies like education, mask wearing, social distancing, keeping crowds to a minimum, and exercising good health practices like hand-washing.
On the heels of that celebration, following the holiday weekend (2/13 through 2/16/2021), the Blaine County Health Department was notified of three new COVID-19 cases later on Tuesday, February 16.
At this point, neither the Board of Health nor McPherson-Hauer, as the Lead Local Health Official, has any plan to put a new local health order into place.
"Enforcement of a mask mandate is difficult, anyway, and we want to work with our partners and be as helpful as we possibly can. We will assess the needs of certain groups and continue to provide support and education," McPherson-Hauer stated.