In his first press conference as newly-elected governor, Greg Gianforte announced his administration’s plan for approaching the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine distribution. During his speech, he emphasized two key changes in Montana’s COVID-19 policy.

Joined by Maj. Gen. Matthew Quinn, head of the administration’s COVID-19 response team, Gov. Gianforte emphasized that confronting the virus is his “top priority as governor.” As of Sunday, Jan. 10, there have been 86,324 confirmed cases and 1,056 COVID-19 related deaths in Montana. 

According to the State of Montana Newsroom, Gov. Gianforte indicated his main priorities as, “protecting the most vulnerable, promoting incentives and personal responsibility over mandates and making directives clear and easier to understand.” 

The first policy adjustment under the new state administration is a revision of the COVID-19 vaccination plan. The new plan still prioritizes those most vulnerable to the virus. After frontline health care workers receive the vaccine, next in line will be Montanans 70 years of age and older, those with severe, underlying medical conditions and Native Americans. According to a report published by the Department of Human Health on July 24, 2020, Native Americans, who account for 7% of Montana’s population, represented 17% of COVID-19 reported cases and 32% of COVID-19 related deaths.

“We need to provide the vaccine to those that want it,” Gov. Gianforte said. “We cannot have vaccines sitting on a shelf. That’s why I have tasked DPHHS and [Major] General Quinn to begin the process of revising the vaccine distribution plan to prioritize the most vulnerable. I have directed the team to make this change effective immediately.”

Gov. Gianforte’s second change is his decision to begin working toward repealing the statewide mask mandate. For him to do this, he stated two conditions must be met: “After we have increased vaccine distribution and after I have legislation on my desk that protects businesses, schools, places of worship and nonprofit organizations that follow guidelines from lawsuits, then we will rescind the current statewide mask mandate,” the governor stated in a press conference.

Gov. Gianforte’s statements affirm his promise to protect businesses and schools from lawsuits. To qualify for this protection, they must make a good faith effort to try and prevent the spread of coronavirus and follow clear public health guidelines.

Gianforte explained his decision to amend the state’s COVID-19 policy by saying, “To combat the virus, I believe providing incentives and promoting personal responsibility are more effective than imposing impractical mandates.” 

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