COVID restrictions in Cascade County could be lifted soon

Posted at 2:01 PM, Feb 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-15 11:46:27-05

GREAT FALLS — Cascade County’s current COVID restrictions could soon be lifted. As of Thursday, February 11, the case rate in the county had been lower than 25 per 100,000 residents for three weeks.

If the rate holds until February 17, the restrictions (details) will be lifted. If the rate doesn’t hold, a new four-week waiting period will begin. The case rate has to be less than 25 per 100,000 residents for four straight weeks before the restrictions can be lifted, according to the City-County Health Department in Great Falls.

The current restrictions do not include a mask mandate, but county health officials may meet next week and decide to require masks. Cascade County removed its January 6 mask mandate on January 21. If the Board of Health decides to implement a mask mandate, that requirement would stay in place even if the other COVID restrictions are lifted.

CCHD health officer Trisha Gardner said masks will be more important than ever if the current COVID restrictions are lifted, and because the state’s mask mandate will be lifted by Governor Greg Gianforte on Friday, February 12. He added that county and municipal jurisdictions may choose to continue their own mask mandates.

Gardner told MTN News:

"As it stands right now, there is no local mask mandate. Our local order on January 20, 2021, states that we will follow the Governor’s Directive regarding masks. We do not yet know the exact provisions in the Governor’s next directive, nor when it will become effective.

However, the Board of Health is planning to convene a special meeting early next week, so there is the possibility of a local order going into place. It is absolutely my recommendation that everyone continue wearing masks, no matter what Directives/Orders are in place.

Additionally, businesses, schools, and other agencies do have the ability to implement their own policies regarding face coverings should they wish to do so.”

Great Falls Public Schools posted the following message on Thursday: "Great Falls Schools has had a Mask requirement in place as part of our school re-opening plan that was approved by our School Board in August of 2020. At this point the mask protocol for the district will remain in place until the CCHD has met and until our board has had a chance to consider any recommendations that staff would bring before them, if any, for changes in our plan at the next regularly scheduled board meeting."

As of Thursday, the federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) was recommending that people consider wearing two masks instead of just one.

Asked if the county would require people to wear two masks if a mask mandate is put in place, Gardner said that would be her recommendation. “I don’t know if that would be a requirement. That’s going to be a tough one, to even be able to see if somebody has two masks on,” Gardner pointed out. “There’s also different masks with filters and ways around that, so that presents a lot of problems.”

If a mask mandate is implemented, there will be a threshold for lifting it but what the threshold will be had not been discussed as of Thursday.

There were 344 new COVID-19 cases reported in Montana on Thursday, and the statewide death toll since the pandemic began reached 1,337, according to data compiled by MTN News during the previous 24 hours.

There are currently 111 people hospitalized for treatment of the virus, and the cumulative number of hospitalizations is 4,414.

The number of Montanans who have received at least one of the two vaccine shots is 157,618, and the number of Montanans who have received both shots and are now fully vaccinated is 43,778.

The number of active cases in the state is currently 2,956 according to MTN News, and there has been a cumulative total of 97,219 cases of the virus in Montana.

The numbers reported by MTN reflect the latest data from the Montana COVID website, along with supplemental data received from county health departments.