Gov. Greg Gianforte announces the lifting of Montana's state of pandemic emergency on June 30, 2021. Credit: Courtesy of governor's office

HELENA — Gov. Greg Gianforte announced Wednesday that he is ending Montana’s COVID-19 state of emergency immediately, bringing the state’s 15 months under emergency declarations stemming from the pandemic to an official close.

The governor’s announcement cited declining numbers of new cases and hospitalizations attributed to the virus, as well as progress made in distributing COVID-19 vaccines.

“Today, the conditions we face are nothing like what we faced 15 months ago, 12 months ago, or six months ago,” Gianforte said in a statement. “Today, the conditions we face no longer warrant a state of emergency.”

Montana has been in an official state of emergency since March 12, 2020, when then-Gov. Steve Bullock first issued an emergency declaration about the then-emerging pandemic. Citing the state of emergency, Bullock, a Democrat, issued a sweeping stay-at-home order in late March of that year in an effort to slow the pandemic’s spread. As the state inched through a phased reopening plan last summer, Bullock also ordered a statewide mask mandate last July.

“Today, the conditions we face are nothing like what we faced 15 months ago, 12 months ago, or six months ago. Today, the conditions we face no longer warrant a state of emergency.”

Gov. Greg Gianforte

On Jan. 13, shortly after he took office, Gianforte rescinded the executive orders Bullock had used to implement pandemic emergency measures and replaced them with an emergency declaration of his own. A directive tied to that action lifted many of the pandemic restrictions on businesses, such as capacity limits on restaurants and public gatherings. Gianforte later lifted the mask mandate in February.

It wasn’t immediately clear Wednesday how lifting the state of the emergency will affect specific provisions included in Gianforte’s January directive, which among other things provided for suspending “hours of service” requirements for truckers transporting agricultural materials and medical supplies and also relaxed some health care licensing rules in an effort to make it easier to staff health care facilities. Gianforte Press Secretary Brooke Stroyke said in a brief message Wednesday afternoon that some of the directive’s regulatory changes had been incorporated into 2021 legislation, but didn’t specify which ones. 

State health department spokesman Jon Ebelt said Wednesday that the state plans to maintain its existing vaccination and COVID-19 dashboards indefinitely. He also said the department will continue publishing epidemiological reports on the pandemic’s progression, including reports tracking the spread COVID-19 variants.

As of late June, Montana was averaging roughly 50 COVID-19 cases reported daily, according to information from the state dashboard, down from 7-day averages of more than 1,200 a day late last year.

As of Wednesday, state figures indicated nearly 427,000 Montanans have been fully immunized, about 46% of the eligible population. Vaccination levels vary across the state however, with 55% of the adult population classified as fully immunized in Missoula County compared to immunization rates of less than 30% across much of eastern Montana.

“The vaccines are safe, effective, free, and easy to get. They continue to be our best path forward,” Gianforte said in his statement.

This story was updated June 30, 2021, to include comment from the governor’s office.

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Eric Dietrich is a journalist and data designer and the founder of the Long Streets economic reporting project. His reporting focuses broadly on Montana’s governance and economic opportunity, with particular focus on the state budget and tax policy. He also contributes data reporting across the MTFP newsroom. Before joining the MTFP staff in 2019, he worked for the Great Falls Tribune, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, and Solutions Journalism Network and also earned an engineering degree from Montana State University. Contact Eric at edietrich@montanafreepress.org, 406-465-3386 ext. 2, and follow him on Twitter.