HELENA -- For weeks, Gov. Greg Gianforte has hinted at removing the mask mandate put in place last year. This afternoon he confirmed he plans to do just that -- but certain things have to happen first.
They involve incentives and vaccine distribution. Gianforte came into the office promising to make some serious changes and today was the first sign he is staying true to what he said during the campaign season
"There will be changes,” Gianforte said. “Some guidance and directives will be revised, others will be removed entirely."
Gianforte says he will need proof that vaccine distribution is on pace with where it needs to be, and liability protection for small businesses who do their part to stop the spread. In order for that to happen, he says he will have to have legislation on his desk. Ideally, he says that will happen in weeks, not months.
"To combat the virus, I believe providing incentives and promoting personal responsibility are more effective than imposing impractical mandates," Gianforte said. “In the meantime I choose to wear a mask and I encourage others to do the same as a way to show respect and to care for the people around us."
Gianforte also plans to change Montana’s vaccine plan effective immediately. His priority is to make the vaccine available to all Montanans who are 70 or older and anyone from ages 16-69 that have underlying health conditions. As of today, Montana has received 36 thousand doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
"We need to get the vaccine out to the most vulnerable,” Gianforte said. “This population group of 70+ in certain communities, we're in a position where there's vaccine available. We don't have as much as we want. Again, we'll have about 77,000 doses in the state within a couple of weeks."
He added that tribal communities have a separate and dedicated supply of vaccines.
When asked if he plans to get rid of the aspects of Gov. Bullock's November directive that include having bars and restaurants close at 10pm and keeping capacity at 50 percent, Gianforte said to stay tuned, as they will have more news within the coming days.