The changes take effect Jan. 15 at 5
Under an order approved by the City-County Health Board, Lewis and Clark County will maintain its limits on capacity and hours of operation at certain businesses until local benchmarks are reached. Gyms, restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries and casinos in the county can operate at up to 50% capacity and can be open between 4 a.m. and 10 p.m.
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte will remove restrictions on capacity and hours of operation at bars, restaurants, casinos, breweries, distilleries and other businesses.
Under the new rules, there will also be no limitation on the size of public gatherings, though it is specified that they should be conducted in a way that follows social distancing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Gianfortes order says the statewide mask mandate remains in effect, until the state reaches a point where the vaccine is more widely distributed and lawmakers pass a bill that provides liability protections to businesses and other organizations that follow public health precautions.
But in his executive order signed Wednesday and effective immediately, Gianforte also lifted two of former Democratic Gov. Steve Bullocks previous executive orders, Executive Orders 2-2020 and 3-2020, which declared a state of emergency. And while Gianfortes own order says that Montana is under a state of emergency, Bullocks last mask mandate issued in November said that if Executive Orders 2-2020 and 3-2020 ended, so did that statewide mask mandate.
After his election, Gianforte formed a task force to review and advise him on the states response to the pandemic, which by Wednesday had sickened 87,600 and killed nearly 1,070 Montanans.
The state has improved its vaccine distribution, Gianforte said Wednesday. About 42,000 Montanans have received their first doses and 11 counties are ready to move onto Phase 1B of the vaccine rollout. The state is also on target to provide first doses to 97% of long-term care facilities in Montana by the end of the month.
"It also doesnt account for the severe economic impact of the pandemic that has left Montanans out of work, and without a paycheck, through no fault of their own," Gianforte said. "And it doesnt account for the decision that too many small business owners have had to make to close their businesses for good, leaving behind what theyve worked so hard to build. Improving our response to the pandemic has been my top priority."
The panel heard from business owners, nonprofits and others that the previous directives were "too complex, confusing and difficult to implement," Gianforte said.