Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Gianforte’s new plan for masking, vaccines

by Daily Inter Lake
| January 10, 2021 12:00 AM

Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte took the reins of is new post in Helena this week, and his first order of business was the raging COVID-19 pandemic.

Gianforte had been critical of the state’s current health directives while on the campaign trail, namely former Gov. Bullock’s mask mandate, and it was widely expected he would begin rolling back those orders on Day One.

Instead, it appears the new governor will take a more calculated approach to rescinding the directives.

At a press conference Tuesday, Gianforte said the statewide mask mandate will stay in place until vaccinations further ramp up, specifically for the most vulnerable people.

He also said he won’t roll back the mask order until a liability shield is in place that protects businesses, schools, places of worship, and nonprofit organizations that follow state health guidelines from lawsuits. A bill enacting such a shield was introduced to the Legislature on Friday.

Gianforte added that once the Montana mask mandate is nixed, the state won’t challenge local governments that enact stricter COVID-19 measures — Whitefish, for example — though it wasn’t immediately clear if the proposed liability protections might preclude enforcement actions against businesses that flout local rules.

Gianforte said he wants to prioritize local decision-making on health directives, and we hope the state’s liability shield doesn’t serve as a loophole to allow bad behavior.

The governor also revised the state’s vaccine distribution plan to prioritize Montanans 70 years of age and older, Montanans 16 to 69 years of age that have an underlying severe medical condition, and Native Americans, after frontline health-care workers get their doses. This means some essential workers who don’t fit that criteria would receive their shot later than they would have under Bullock’s plan.

But the data clearly shows that age and health are the driving factors in virus deaths and hospitalizations — not occupation. Older Americans and those with underlying conditions should be first in line for the vaccine.

An epidemiological analysis for Montana COVID-19 cases through Dec. 25 show the vast majority of deaths in age groups 70 and older. The report also notes that people who required hospitalization for the virus are generally much older than those not requiring hospitalization.

Of the hospitalized patients, with data available, “79% indicated they have at least one pre-existing condition,” the report added. “Of those who died, and data was available, 81% indicated they had at least one pre-existing condition.”

The governor’s measured plan requiring mask use until vaccinations have been more widely distributed, and prioritizing older and vulnerable Montanans in vaccine distribution, shows responsible leadership as the pandemic hits unimaginable levels. Now is not the time for politically driven decision-making.

John Hopkins University’s count showed the nation had a staggering 4,085 deaths on Thursday alone. According to Associated Press reporting, the day ranks as one of the deadliest in U.S. history, outpacing the nearly 3,000 killed on 9/11 and exceeding the combined total of nearly 3,900 U.S. lives lost on D-Day and at Pearl Harbor.

And while Montana experienced a brief lull in new virus cases at the end of December, indicators show another uptick is underway as folks return from holiday gatherings.

Flathead County won’t be “out of the woods” until the daily number of lab-tested cases is 30 to 35 or fewer, according to Flathead County Public Health Officer Joe Russell.

We aren’t there yet.

Let’s continue to stay vigilant, even after the mask mandate is rescinded. The governor’s calls for “personal responsibility” mean exactly that. Let’s all do our part to protect the entire community.