County lifts most COVID restrictions as active cases decline and vaccinations continue but masks mandate remains
March 18, 2021
Lewis and Clark Public Health lifted all COVID-19 restrictions - except the countywide masking mandate - Friday morning March 12 after the county fell below the triggering score established by the Lewis and Clark City-County Board of Health's COVID-19 Emergency Rules and Regulations adopted in December.
The change removes restrictions on the number of people at an event, and limited operating hours and capacity limits at establishments such as restaurants and bars.
"If you're planning an event here in the next few months it's no longer required that you submit a plan for review and approval, however, we highly recommend it and that's because we know that score could very well go back up again and we don't want you to be caught flat footed, County Public Health Officer Drenda Niemann said during a community update on Zoom Friday, March 12. She explained that submitting a plan for an event and working with the health department will ensure it's in place in case the triggering score goes back up before the event. "It's just good practice at this point... having that plan really just helps you."
Lewis and Clark Public Health is still requiring masks for anyone over the age of five in indoor spaces open to the public, and in some outdoor public spaces where people can't socially distance. According to the county, the mask mandate will continue until the end of the governor's statewide emergency declaration or until the Emergency Rules and Regulations are repealed by the City-County Board of Health.
Governor Greg Gianforte re-established the state of emergency declaration Jan. 13. Although his initial directive implementing restrictions tied to the state of emergency, maintained many of the restrictions already put in place by his predecessor , Steve Bullock. On Feb. 14, Gianforte scrapped the phased re-opening approach for the state and removed the statewide mask mandate, but he encouraged Montanans to continue wearing them and left room for businesses to continue requiring masks.
Under Montana law, city and county public health departments can establish restrictions that are more strict than those at the state level. In December, before Gianforte took Office, the Lewis and Clark City-County Board of Health adopted the COVID-19 Emergency Rules and Regulations, which generally mirrored the statewide restrictions put in place by Bullock.
The triggering criteria for restrictions is based on data such as health care capacity, the number of confirmed cases, community compliance and continued evidence of coronavirus in wastewater.
However, under the emergency rule, masking isn't tethered directly to the triggering criteria.
In the last month, daily reported cases in the county have been at their lowest levels since last September, averaging about 10 cases per day. However, with a population of about 65,000, that still puts the county above the daily case incidences triggering criteria of 10 per 100,000.
As of March 12, the county reported a total of 6,470 COVID-19 cases and 68 deaths since the first cases were reported March 26, 2020.
"Again, we are in a really good place right now, but I want us to stay in that really good place while we continue to roll out vaccinations, Niemann said." We have not yet vaccinated enough people in our county to have widespread protection... therefore we really do need everyone to still hold tight and stay vigilant and take personal responsibility. Please continue to wear your mask, stay six feet apart, stay home when you're sick, avoid large group gatherings and get tested; and when vaccine is available to you... when you're eligible, please do get the vaccine.
As of March 7, 8907 county residents had received both doses of the vaccine, while 14, 320 people had received their first dose.
The county moved to vaccinations Phase 1B+ March 8, which includes people over the age of 60 and those between 16-59 years who have medical conditions not included in Phase 1b, but who may be at an elevated-risk for COVID-19 complications.
Phase 1 C, which includes school employees and food service and grocery workers, is expected to begin at the end of the month. The county is currently on pace to have 50 percent of county residents vaccinated by the end of May, and to reach 90 percent coverage by early August.