Montana businesses no longer have to operate within constrained hours and reduced capacity because of COVID-19, by order of Governor Greg Gianforte on Wednesday. The order eliminates the restraints imposed mid-November by former Government Steve Bullock. Gianforte said the order becomes effective within 48 hours of Tuesday afternoon, and it follows the rescinding, last week, of local mandates by Yellowstone County Health Officer John Felton.

The loosening of restrictions is being made possible by the arrival of vaccines and the decline in the number of new COVID cases in the state.

Gov. Bullock’s orders had required restaurants, bars, casinos, distilleries, etc. to operate at 50 percent capacity and to close at 10 pm. Felton had extended the limit in Yellowstone County on hours of business to all businesses, but with both state and local orders rescinded businesses in Yellowstone County may now operate at full capacity and at whatever hours they choose.

Gianforte said that previous mandates “unduly restricted” restaurants, bars and casinos. Capacity directives were arbitrary, he said, and the restrictions were complicated and confusing. He said that he heard “loud and clear” from business owners that the directives were “too complex, difficult to implement and arbitrary.”

He said that his goal in issuing the COVID directives was to reduce the burden on businesses while simultaneously reducing risks of spreading the virus. The new rules are simple and common sense, he said. They are outlined on three pages while the previous rules were 25 pages long.

 Businesses are to follow “best practices” and urged to develop policies that continue to ensure the health and safety of their customers and employees.

“We will continue to make common sense steps,” said Gianforte, saying that he encourages everyone to continue to wear masks and that he  is “looking forward to the day when we can remove them.”

Last week, Gianforte said that changes to mask mandates not would be made until vaccinations have been given to the most vulnerable in the state, and a bill is on his desk from the state legislature that provides protection from COVID-19 lawsuits for businesses, schools and non-profits. That bill is winding its way through the state legislature.

At that time, he also explained that the first people to get the vaccine were to be health care providers and those most vulnerable, in an effort to keep hospitals and deaths at a minimum. At that time he identified two categories of priority vaccine recipients. In the press conference on Wednesday he said most of those in the first category – 1A – have already received the vaccine and most of those in the second category – 1B – should have received vaccinations by the end of January.

Montana is ranked ninth in terms of how quickly and efficiently the vaccines are being delivered and administered. “We have over 70,000 first doses,” he said, which is in excess of the number needed to serve the first category. By next week, most communities will move into the treating those in the 1B category.

New deliveries of the vaccines are being made weekly.


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