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Gianforte sticks to vaccine persuasion over mandates as Covid cases climb

While Covid cases climb and hospitals come under pressure to treat patients, Gov. Greg Gianforte on Tuesday held firm to his pledge that Montana would not issue a mask or vaccine mandate to handle the resurgent crisis.

Rather, he urged Montanans to get vaccinated, saying the suite of vaccines now available have been proven safe by the Centers for Disease Control and are widely available.

“The vaccines have been researched, rigorously tested, and they work,” Gianforte said. “We’re seeing new cases and hospitalizations rise because of the Delta variant. The Delta variant is serious and it’s more dangerous for unvaccinated Montanans. This puts unvaccinated Montanans at greater risk of contracting Covid or becoming hospitalized with Covid.”

On Tuesday, Montana had nearly 3,900 active cases of Covid and nearly 240 active hospitalizations. More than 700 new cases were reported on Tuesday alone, and the number of deaths since the pandemic began has climbed to nearly 1,770.

State Health Officer Dr. Maggie Cook-Shimanek said the Delta variant has displaced other viral variants as the dominant strain in circulation in Montana. It accounts for around 90% of the samples received by the state, and it’s more contagious than previous viral strains.

But despite the dominance of the Delta variant and its ability to spread – and the growing number of cases – Gianforte said the state will not issue any mandates.

“The state of Montana will not impose mandates. One of the things we’ve learned over past 18 months is that government mandates don’t work. Cases of Covid variants have increased nationwide in states with mask mandates and states without them.”

Rather than mandates, Gianforte has promoted personal responsibility as his preferred tool to combat the virus and, on Tuesday, he suggested the tactic is working.

According to the governor, more than 50% of eligible Montanans are now fully vaccinated – a figure he described as a milestone. He said 56% of residents have received at least one dose and, this month, vaccines have been issued at a higher rate, with around 4,300 over the weekend alone.

“The state of Montana will not impose a mask mandate, and the state of Montana will not impose a vaccine mandate,” Gianforte said. “I trust Montanans to make decisions that are best for themselves and their loved ones.”

Gianforte credited former President Donald Trump for Operation Warp Speed, which brought vaccines to the market in record time. He also praised Sen. Steve Daines for “securing the funding to allow the rapid manufacture of vaccines and their thorough testing.”

While he went on to say that politics shouldn’t play a role in the pandemic, he criticized Vice President Kamala Harris for remarks she made last year.

“It’s unfortunate all this has been politicized,” he said. “Politics shouldn’t be part of it.”

The current path of Covid could either advance or threaten the governor’s “Montana Comeback” plan, one that requires workers to return to the workforce and the public to engage in commerce.

While the economy is on the upswing, returning to pre-pandemic levels, Gianforte said the state’s economic well-being will require a greater number of vaccinations.

“Montana is open, and we will not impose a government-mandated shutdown of our state,” Gianforte said. “Montanans have returned to their worksite, and others are getting back to work. Businesses are recovering, hiring and creating jobs. The best path forward to ensure we keep making progress is to ensure Montanans get vaccinated.”