County mask mandate remains as LCPH loosens some COVID restrictions, moves to new vaccine distribution tier
Last updated 2/17/2021 at 11:10am
Governor Greg Gianforte last week announced his order allowing the statewide mask mandate that has been in place since July 15 to expire, but a mask order remains in effect for Lewis and Clark County.
Under Executive Order 2-2021, Gianforte encouraged Montanans to continue to wear masks but highlighted personal responsibility as the best tool to combat the spread of COVID-19.
However, state law allows local jurisdictions to enforce health directives that are stricter than those established by the state. In December, the City-County Board of Health adopted COVID-19 guidelines that mirrored those put in place by former Gov. Steve Bullock, giving the County the ability to continue to enforce guidance such as a county-wide mask mandate.
Locally, Lincoln Public Schools also has a mask requirement as part of the re-opening plan approved by the Lincoln School Board in August. According to an e-mail sent to parents Monday, the school's mask protocol will remain in effect until Lewis and Clark Public Health recommends lifting such requirements.
"Even though Governor Gianforte lifted the mask mandate, he has still left the decision to be made at the local level and county health department" the e-mail read. "At this time, both are going to continue the mask requirement. Lincoln schools will continue to require masks for students, staff and any who enter the building."
Under the county's mask directive, anyone over the age of five is required to wear masks in all businesses, schools, government offices and other indoor spaces open to the public, and during outdoor activities where social distancing isn't possible. Exceptions remain, including those for people who are eating, drinking, engaged in strenuous activity, speaking publicly or performing, or for medical care.
While the mask mandate remains in effect for the county, a decrease in COVID-19 cases, improved community compliance and an increase in the capacity of the county's health system prompted the Board of Health to loosen some restrictions. Effective Feb. 12, gyms, restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries and casinos are allowed to operate at 75 percent capacity from 4 a.m. until midnight, provided social distancing can be maintained. Additionally, gatherings of up to 50 people are allowed without an event plan. Plans are required for gatherings of 50 to 250 people, and gatherings of more than 250 people are still prohibited.
Feb. 10 also saw the county move into Phase b, Tier 2 of vaccinations. Vaccinations for county residents aged 60-69 with high-risk medical conditions, as well as persons of color and native Americans who may be at higher risk, began Saturday Feb. 13 with three first-dose drive through clinics in Helena. Additional clinics were scheduled for Feb. 16 and 17. According to LCPH, high-risk medical conditions include coronary artery disease or cardiomyopathies, cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, immunocompromised state from solid organ transplant, Down syndrome, sickle cell disease, Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, and severe obesity.
Since Phase 1b includes a large number of eligible individuals and because the current weekly local vaccine allocation is limited, the county will continue to roll out Phase 1b vaccination eligibility by tiered priority within the population. Details on those clinics and changes to priority populations will be released later.
Under Phase 1b, Tier 2, vaccination clinics are also open to individuals eligible under Phase 1a and Phase 1b, Tier 1.
For more information on vaccine distribution and the countywide COVID-19 situation, visit https://www.helenamontanamaps.org/LCPHCovid19HUB/
Lewis and Clark Public Health can be reached at 457-8900.