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Montana governor lifts state mask mandate

Montana Gov. Greg GianforteGregory Richard GianforteOvernight Health Care: CDC calls for schools to reopen with precautions | Cuomo faces rising scrutiny over COVID-19 nursing home deaths | Biden officials move to begin rescinding Medicaid work requirements Montana governor lifts state mask mandate Democrats argue Trump will incite violence again MORE (R) lifted the state's mask mandate Friday, fulfilling a campaign pledge, after he said the state has made significant progress vaccinating the most vulnerable against COVID-19.

Gianforte has been a vocal opponent to the mask mandate, which was signed into law by his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockProgressives' majority delusions politically costly Overnight Health Care: CDC calls for schools to reopen with precautions | Cuomo faces rising scrutiny over COVID-19 nursing home deaths | Biden officials move to begin rescinding Medicaid work requirements Montana governor lifts state mask mandate MORE, in July. 

The governor made the announcement Wednesday, during a signing ceremony for legislation that would shield businesses, health care providers, houses of worship and nonprofit organizations from coronavirus-related lawsuits.

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Gianforte last month said the legislation was a priority and he would wait to remove the mask mandate until it was signed. His other threshold for removing the mandate was having a vaccine available to vulnerable populations.

"We will continue to provide incentives to protect the health and safety and we will emphasize personal responsibility over mandates," Gianforte said Wednesday. "When it comes down to it, I trust Montanans, and together we can combat this public health and economic pandemic with personal responsibility and by looking out for one another."

Gianforte noted that coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths have been declining and that the state has made good progress vaccinating people in long-term care facilities, as well as people over the age of 70. 

"Our trendlines remain promising. With our vaccine distribution plan that prioritizes and protects the most vulnerable, we are saving lives," Gianforte said. 

Only about 46,000 people in the state been fully vaccinated, according to the state Department of Public Health. 

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Local jurisdictions will still be able to enact or maintain their own mask mandates if they choose to, and Gianforte said he will continue to wear a mask.

“Since we’re not out of the woods yet, I will continue wearing a mask, and I encourage all Montanans to do the same to protect themselves, their loved ones and their neighbors,” he said.

Montana is the latest GOP-run state to remove a mask mandate. Last week, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds removed essentially all remaining COVID-19 restrictions in the state, including the state's mask mandate and social distancing requirements for bars and restaurants.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle WalenskyRochelle WalenskyOvernight Health Care: CDC study links masks to fewer COVID-19 deaths | Relief debate stalls in Senate | Biden faces criticism over push to vaccinate teachers CDC study links masks to fewer COVID deaths The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Increased security on Capitol Hill amid QAnon's March 4 date MORE on Monday urged states against lifting coronavirus restrictions, citing the ongoing virus threat and more contagious variants on the rise despite lower case counts overall.

"We have yet to control this pandemic," Walensky said. "We still have this emerging threat of variants, and I would just simply discourage any of those activities. We really need to keep all of the mitigation measures at play here if we're really going to get control of this pandemic."