Gianforte names 21-member COVID-19 task force; 1 doctor, 1 nurse on panel

Montana governor-elect Greg Gianforte

(KPAX) Gov.-elect Greg Gianforte Tuesday unveiled a 21-member task force that will make recommendations on how best to respond to the surge of new Covid-19 infections in Montana.

“Montana faces a public-health crisis and economic crisis as a result of Covid-19, which I trust the people of Montana to take seriously,” he said in a statement. “It remains my top priority to work together to protect the most vulnerable among us, while also safely and fully opening back up our economy.”

Gianforte said the task force will work with state and local health officials and give him recommendations on how to “best manage” the Covid-19 crisis. Gianforte won the election last Tuesday and, in January, will become Montana’s first Republican governor in 16 years.

During the campaign, Gianforte often said he would rely more on Montanans exercising “personal responsibility” to fight the outbreak of Covid-19, as opposed to some of the mandates handed down by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock.

However, Gianforte hasn’t said specifically what steps he may or may not take once he becomes governor.

Montana had another daily record-high number of new Covid-19 cases Tuesday at 1,101. Gallatin County had 215 new cases and Flathead, Missoula, Yellowstone and Cascade counties combined for more than 450 cases.

The state now has 16,800 active cases of the virus and 487 hospitalized patients.

The task force is composed of health-care experts, business owners, school officials, law enforcement and local and tribal leaders.

One of its members, Montana Adjutant Gen. Matthew Quinn of the National Guard, also is the head of Gov. Bullock’s coronavirus task force.

Its other members are:

· Kurt Alme of Billings, U.S. attorney for Montana

· Don Beeman of Bozeman, former executive with drug-maker Merk’s vaccine division.

· The Rev. Patrick Beretta of Butte, a Catholic priest and chaplain at Montana Tech.

· Daniel Bierschwale of Big Sky, executive director of Big Sky Resort area district.

· Dax Cetraro of Helena, owner of several bars and restaurants.

· Greg Chilcott of Hamilton, Ravalli County commissioner.

· Heidi Duncan of Billings, medical director at Billings Clinic.

· Wayne Leiker of Great Falls, Calumet Refinery.

· Liz Moore of Helena, executive director of the Montana Nonprofit Association.

· Hannah Nieskins of Whitehall, superintendent of schools.

· Rick Norby, mayor of Sidney and president of the Montana League of Cities and Towns.

· Todd O’Hair, president of the Montana Chamber of Commerce.

· Sheryl Scheafer of Billings, president of the Montana PTA.

· Dan Schmidt, superintendent of schools at Poplar.

· Jesse Slaughter, Cascade County sheriff.

· Karen Sullivan of Butte, Butte-Silver Bow Public Health officer.

· Randy Swenson of Billings, owner of TenderNest Assisted Living.

· Cherie Taylor of Cut Bank, CEO of Northern Rockies Medical Center.

· Steve Wahrlich of Billings, owner of a motel and bakery.

· Kaci Wallette of Fort Peck, a nurse and member of the Fort Peck Tribal Executive Board.