GREAT FALLS — The Cascade County Board of Health passed a mask mandate nearly unanimously on Wednesday afternoon, one day after Governor Greg Gianforte said he intends to rescind his predecessor's statewide mask mandate in a matter of weeks, depending on vaccine rollout and legislative efforts.
Gianforte said at a news conference on Tuesday that he would rescind the mandate as soon as vulnerable populations have been vaccinated and the Montana Legislature passes liability protections for Montana businesses. The mask mandate was ordered by former Governor Steve Bullock in July.
Until Wednesday, Cascade County was the only major county in Montana without a mask mandate, according to Trisha Gardner, the public health officer who proposed the order. The only board member to vote against the measure was Owen Robinson, a Great Falls city commissioner, who said he didn't want to take pre-emptive action on the issue before Gianforte repealed the mandate. A number of other board members said the vote would instead send a message showing that the board supports Gardner in her efforts, and provide extra enforcement.
The mandate mirrors the requirements of Bullock's order in July, which says that masks will be required in every county with four or more active coronavirus cases.
Other countywide coronavirus restrictions, including a limit of 50 people for in-person gatherings and 50% capacity restrictions on many businesses, will remain in place until Cascade County’s virus spread rate is down to 25 or fewer new cases per 100,000 people for four weeks. Over the last seven days, the rate was 38 per 100,000 people, according to the Cascade City-County Health Department.
The board also elected Robinson as its new chair. He'll take over from Terry Barber, who served as chair this past year. Matt Martin, a dentist, was elected to the position of vice-chair. Jane Weber, a Cascade County commissioner, will soon step down from her position to retire.
Cascade County has 615 active coronavirus cases as of Tuesday, which is down from more than 1,200 around Christmas time. CCHD currently has no wait list for vaccines. Also as of Tuesday, there have been 107 deaths in Cascade County since the start of the pandemic.