Greg Gianforte mug shot

Gov. Elect Greg Gianforte, R-Montana.

Gov. Greg Gianforte will remove occupancy limits and restrictions on hours of operation for bars, restaurants, breweries and casinos with new guidance he issued late Wednesday afternoon that will repeal and replace the state’s previous pandemic directives.

Those two restrictions in particular were arbitrary, Gianforte said, and didn’t make sense. The governor also stressed, however, that businesses should follow best practices for their industry to prevent the spread of COVID-19. If those guidelines are not available, the businesses should themselves develop policies that are in keeping with federal and state guidance.

“We can reduce the burden on small business owners while simultaneously protecting the health of Montana workers and customers,” Gianforte said. “These two are not mutually exclusive.”

Gianforte also touted the smaller size of his directive compared to his predecessor’s.

“Gone are the 25 pages of overlapping, confusing directives,” the governor said. “Our new directives are clear and fit on three pages. ”

Gianforte said the changes to his guidance will take effect on Friday. They are based on feedback from the COVID-19 taskforce he setup, which included health care officials, small business owners, city and tribal leaders, and many others.

The complete text of both orders is available online with this article at sidneyherald.com.

“The fact is we are in the middle of public health crisis and an economic crisis, and we will continue to take steps to address both,” Gianforte said. “And we look forward to the day when we can all take our masks off and throw it in the trash and get on with our lives in a safe manner. We will continue to wear a mask, and encourage others to do the same.”

Gianforte said continued decline in COVID-19 trend lines are encouraging signals.

“We are not out of the woods yet, but we are now under 200 people hospitalized in Montana,” he said. “(That) is encouraging, and I’m looking forward to the light at the end of the tunnel getting a little brighter.”

Gianforte’s COVID-19 task force is meeting twice weekly right now to discuss the situation on the ground and stay on top of the vaccine rollout. Montana has 6,400 more doses coming from Moderna this week and 13,500 more doses from Pfizer and Moderna coming next week.

At the same time, about 20,000 second doses are also coming in from both drug manufacturers.

Montana will have administered vaccine to 97 percent of its long-term care residents by the end of January, a figure that Gianforte told the Sidney Herald does include facilities in northeastern Montana.

Eleven communities in the state are now ready to shift to Phase 1B of the state’s vaccination plan. That will include anyone over age 65 as well as anyone with risk factors that predispose them to a more serious outcome from COVID-19.

Medical conditions on that list include cancer, Chronic kidney disease, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), Down Syndrome, heart conditions (including heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies), immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant, severe obesity (BMI ≥ 40 kg/m2), sickle cell disease, Type 1 & 2 Diabetes mellitus.

Documentation of underlying conditions will be handled through one’s medical doctor.

Gianforte would not say which communities are ready for Phase 1b, but said his team will be in touch with all counties.

The Sidney Herald will share more information about where and how to get vaccines for Phase 1B as that information becomes available from local public health authorities.

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