Gianforte won’t endorse masks despite COVID-19 case rise
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana health officials reported on Tuesday more than 250 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases in a single day for the first time in over five months.
Health officials reported 261 new cases of the respiratory virus, bringing the number of active cases in the state to 942.
Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte said in a statement that he is concerned about the growing caseload, but stopped short of recommending that residents wear masks in closed spaces. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that vaccinated people in counties with high caseloads should return to wearing masks indoors.
“While the CDC has repeatedly changed its mask recommendations over the last 16 months, the governor is committed to keeping our state open, and encourages Montanans to talk with their doctor about getting a safe, effective vaccine,” spokesperson Brooke Stroyke said in a statement.
Stroyke said Gianforte has charged the Montana Department of Health and Human Services to “refine” its vaccine awareness campaign as vaccination rates have continued to lag in some parts of the state. Of those eligible in Montana, 48% are fully vaccinated.
While the governor did not echo the CDC’s new recommendations on masking, some local health officials called for vaccinated people to start wearing masks again.
“Every layer of protection counts right now and dusting those masks off is a wise choice,” said D’Shane Barnett, Missoula public health officer. “With the highly transmissible delta variant present in our community, those who are old enough to get vaccinated should do so immediately.”
Iris Samuels is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.