HELENA — Editors note: The article has been updated to better clarify Montana's liquor laws.
Gov. Greg Gianforte intends to let Montana’s COVID-19 mask mandate expire on Friday Feb. 12. However, masks will still be required in Lewis and Clark County due to local COVID restrictions.
“The mask requirement as passed by our local City-County Board of Health back in December will remain in place in this county,” said Health Officer Drenda Niemann.
Niemann wants the public to know that their decision on masking is data driven and science based. The CDC recently announced findings that indicate statewide mask mandates reduces the rate of hospitalizations in communities, and encourages mask mandates to remain in effect.
Lewis and Clark Public Health (LCPH) does plan to lighten some COVID restrictions on Friday following triggering criteria being met in recent weeks.
“We were really excited to see the triggering score decrease over the past couple of weeks which has allowed some of those restrictions to be lifted,” said Niemann. “That was the way the emergency rules were designed.”
Beginning Friday Feb. 12, bars, restaurants, casinos, distilleries and gyms can operate at 75 percent capacity between the hours of 4 a.m. and midnight. Those business had previously be only able to operate at 50 percent capacity under the county regulations. Montana law prohibits the sell of alcohol from the hours of 2:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m.
Event restrictions have also been loosened with the county increasing from 25 to 50 individuals before an event needs approval from Lewis and Clark Public Health (LCPH). Events over 250 people will continue to be prohibited unless they are associated with a school.
Niemann says conditions improving with hospital capacity and business compliance to county rules were the big factors in the triggering criteria being reduced and restrictions being lessened. She added that while things are looking better, residents still need to be vigilant with COVID guidelines to help reduce cases and spread in the community.
“Things are looking much better and it feels great as far as the workload is concerned. Our contact tracers are able to keep up with the work with case investigation and contact tracing because of that lower case count,” Niemann explained. “But it wouldn't take much at all to send us in the wrong direction.”
Lewis and Clark County is also expanding COVID-19 vaccine availability to residents aged 60-69 years old with high-risk medical conditions and American Indians and other people of color ages 60 to 69. The inclusion of American Indians and other people of other follows the State of Montana and CDC’s guidelines for vaccination indicating those groups as more vulnerable to serious complications from the virus.
The first Phase 1b- Tier 2 will begin Saturday, Feb. 13, with three drive-thru clinics. Pre-registration, proof of age and residency in Lewis and Clark County will be required.
Registration for all clinics will begin at 9 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 12, and end when appointment times are exhausted. Links to the register for the vaccination clinics can be found here.