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The latest news about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 in Montana.

Gianforte, Knudsen praise judge's decision to block 'unconstitutional' vaccine mandate for health ca

A gloved hand swabs a person's arm, prepping it for a shot.

Montana’s Republican leaders are praising a judge’s ruling halting a federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers.

Montana was one of a dozen states to file a lawsuit and motion for injunction earlier this month against the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ rule that would require all staff at health care facilities that receive federal funding to become fully vaccinated by early January.

In a statement, Gov. Greg Gianforte calls the Biden administration’s mandate “unconstitutional” and says it would have worsened the state’s health care worker shortage.

“Hundreds of Montanans at risk of losing their livelihoods from the president’s unlawful overreach can now breathe a sigh of relief,” Gianforte said.

Attorney General Austin Knudsen said that with the CMS mandate now blocked, “medical facilities have no reason to threaten their employees if they don’t get the vaccine.”

As it was written, the CMS rule would supersede local and state laws, including Montana’s ban on vaccine mandates.

Health care systems across Montana, including Billings Clinic, St. Vincent Healthcare and Logan Health, had already begun to move forward with plans to require staff to get vaccinated against COVID-19, with some exemptions.

U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty ruled the Biden administration does not have the authority to implement the mandate, though he acknowledges the “matter will ultimately be decided by a higher court than this one.

“However, it is important to preserve the status quo in this case. The liberty interests of the unvaccinated requires nothing less.”

Doughty’s ruling extends to all states, except the 10 states, including Wyoming, in which a separate injunction was granted on Monday.

“Although this Court considered limiting the injunction to the fourteen Plaintiff States,” the ruling says, “there are unvaccinated healthcare workers in other states who also need protection.”

The head of the Montana Department for Health and Human services said in a statement Wednesday the agency is “pleased” with the ruling.

Director Adam Meier says the CMS rule had legal shortcomings and would have had a “dire impact” on Montana and other states.

He says because of a Montana law passed earlier this year banning vaccine mandates, “Montana health care facilities cannot require staff to be vaccinated for COVID-19.”

Copyright 2021 Yellowstone Public Radio. To see more, visit Yellowstone Public Radio.

Nadya Faulx