Gianforte to Announce COVID-19 Policy Next Week

Republican governor-elect called the pandemic the most serious issue the state faces

By Associated Press
Then-Rep. Greg Gianforte addresses residents of Lighthouse Christian Home for their services through the Shining Honor Project at Glacier Memorial Gardens in Kalispell on May 24, 2019. Beacon File Photo

HELENA — Montana’s Gov.-elect Greg Gianforte said he’ll announce his recommendations for handling the COVID-19 health crisis next week, after he’s sworn in.

Gianforte, a Republican from Bozeman, called the pandemic the most serious issue the state faces and said he’ll do his best not to politicize the issue of wearing a mask to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“We have a legitimate and serious health crisis,” he said during a teleconference call with reporters Monday, a week before his inauguration. “The signs are good. New infections are going down, we have a vaccine, but we’re not out of the woods yet and we should take prudent measures to protect those around us and our family as we move forward.”

Gianforte expects to receive recommendations from his COVID-19 task force later this week for ways to protect those most vulnerable to the respiratory virus while also reopening the economy.

He has already said people will follow health directives in the governor’s office including wearing a mask, physical distancing, frequent testing and having some staff work from home. The Montana Legislature, which will begin its 2021 session next Monday, is not initially requiring its members to wear masks.

“I’m choosing to wear a mask at the Capitol because it’s a way to show respect to people around me,” Gianforte said.

Physical distancing, limiting the size of gatherings and hand washing also help slow the spread of the respiratory virus that has killed at least 927 Montanans, he said.

In recent weeks, the numbers of new cases of COVID-19 in Montana have been declining. The number of people who are hospitalized with the virus was 213 on Monday, down from a high of over 500.

“We do believe that some of the public health messaging has been effective,” along with outgoing Gov. Steve Bullock’s mid-November directives to restrict public gathering sizes, limiting the capacity at bars and restaurants and requiring them to close at 10 p.m., said Jon Ebelt, a spokesperson for the health department.

“So, it’s a promising sign, but with the holiday season upon us, we’re still very much concerned. We must not let our guard down,” Ebelt said Monday.

Gianforte plans to announce the names of additional agency directors later this week, but said he is not concerned if he does not have every seat filled by the time he is sworn in next Monday. He said it is more important to find the right person.

Gianforte and his lieutenant governor, Kristen Juras, will be sworn in at the Capitol surrounded by a small group of family members in an event that will be streamed live on Facebook, he said.

“Rather than invest taxpayer dollars on inauguration-related festivities, we’re going to get straight to work for Montanans,” with the goals of holding the line on new spending, reducing taxes, encouraging education in the trades and addressing drug addiction, he said.

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