Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte announced Wednesday that he will lift the statewide mask mandate on Friday. The timing comes as Gianforte signs a bill into law to protect businesses from COVID-19 litigation.
Gianforte said when he was first inaugurated in January that he would repeal the mask mandate when two thresholds were met — the vaccine being available to vulnerable populations and the passage of Senate Bill 65 into law.
"I want to thank every legislator, Republican and Democrat, who recognize the importance of protecting businesses, nonprofits and others that protect their workers, their customers and their clients."
The bill increases the burden of proof for complainants who wish to sue a business, nonprofit or long-term care facility for negligence in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Montana’s mask mandate has been in effect since July, enacted by Democratic former Gov. Steve Bullock. Gianforte, a Republican, said throughout his campaign for governor that he believes mandates are not the right approach to respond to the pandemic.
Gianforte noted that counties who’ve chosen to enact their own mask mandate will still have local rules in place even after the statewide mandate is repealed.
Gianforte said with the completion of the first round of vaccinations for people in long-term care facilities, and the number of new COVID-19 cases trending downward, it’s time to lift the mask mandate.
"When it comes down to it, I trust Montanans, and together we can combat this public health and economic pandemic with personal responsibility and by looking out for one another."
About 4% of Montanans have been fully vaccinated, according to the state's vaccine tracking site.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 3,700 people living and working in long-term care facilities in Montana have been fully vaccinated as of Wednesday.
Democratic leaders released a statement condemning the decision, saying not all of Montana’s vulnerable people have been vaccinated and that Gianforte is "endangering the health and safety of those he has a duty to protect."
The CDC published research Wednesday showing that wearing two masks at a time reduces exposure to potentially infectious aerosols by about 95%. The federal agency urges people to wear masks to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Gianforte has said he will encourage people to wear a mask.