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KUNC is among the founding partners of the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration of public media stations that serve the Rocky Mountain states of Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.

Montana Governor's Plan To Rescind Mask Mandate Is 'Premature,' Epidemiologist Says

Greg Gianforte was sworn in as Montana's governor on Monday.
Greg Gianforte was sworn in as Montana's governor on Monday.

The U.S. saw its highest number of COVID-19 deaths this week. Meanwhile, in Montana, the newly elected governor is planning to rescind its statewide mask order.

Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte is waiting on two things. 

First, the state's GOP-controlled state legislature must pass coronavirus-related liability protections for businesses. Then, it's on to vaccines. As soon as the state's most vulnerable people are vaccinated, he says he will lift the statewide mask mandate. 

Those vulnerable include frontline health care workers, people 70 years of age and older, and people with high-risk medical conditions. 

But Gianforte is aiming for the wrong milestone, according to Sophia Newcomer, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Montana. She said the repeal is premature and the state needs to wait and see whether the vaccine rollout substantially reduces cases, deaths and hospitalizations first. 

"Then we can start to talk about taking some steps back from some of the public health precautions we're taking now," she said. 

Newcomer is also concerned that if Montana rolls back its mask mandate too early, essential workers such as teachers, postal workers and grocery store clerks who have not yet received the vaccine will be at greater risk. 

Montana hit a grim milestone this week as the state's death toll surpassed 1,000

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.