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Gianforte: 'There Shouldn't Be Any Big Surprises' In My COVID Guidelines

Greg Gianforte speaks to supporters in an open-air tent outside Hilton Garden Inn in Bozeman, shortly after the AP called the governor's race in his favor, Nov. 03, 2020.
Nick Mott
Montana Public Radio
Greg Gianforte speaks to supporters in an open air tent outside Hilton Garden Inn in Bozeman, shortly after the AP called the governor's race in his favor, Nov. 03, 2020.

When Montana Governor elect Greg Gianforte assumes office Jan. 4, he’ll inherit an ongoing response to the worst public health crisis to face the state in a century. The current U.S. Congressman says he’s holding off on releasing specifics about protecting public health while reopening businesses until he’s sworn in.

But in an interview with Yellowstone Public Radio’s Rachel Cramer, Gianforte says he’ll lead by example by masking up while in the capital and getting a vaccine when it’s available.

Earlier this week, Governor elect Greg Gianforte sent a letter to state lawmakers outlining COVID-19 protocols his office plans to take during the pandemic.

Greg Gianforte: We need to get the work of the people done. They expect that out of their governor and out of the legislature, but we also have to keep people safe while we do that. So I, personally, I'm going to lead by example. I'm going to wear a mask. I'm going to encourage visitors to wear masks. I'm not going to mandate them, however.

We're going to perform temperature checks. I mean, people are sick, they got to stay home. If people have underlying health conditions, I think accommodations should be made to allow them to work remotely, working to encourage social distancing, and there's some advanced technology that can be used to make sure the air is clean and the virus is not spread more broadly than it would be otherwise.

So these are a few examples of what we're going to do in the Governor's Office, and I think individual Montanans, when presented with the facts, can make the right decisions for themselves and their family, rather than government telling them how to live their life.

Rachel Cramer: Are you planning on getting a vaccine?

Greg Gianforte: I am. When my name comes up on the list, I will have my hand up. And I think it's important that I set an example there as well because the vaccine represents, has very, very high effectiveness ratings. We all want to get back to normal, and this vaccine, now it's available in the state.

I had a briefing earlier this week from General Quinn specifically on the vaccine. We have gotten our first shipment. I got a text yesterday from a doctor at Bozeman Health with a picture of the receipt from his vaccine. So it's being put in people's arms. This is the best opportunity we have and the best news we've had in a long time that we're going to get back to normal.

Rachel Cramer: Governor elect, shortly after the election, you convened a group of business owners, healthcare professionals, local government and school officials for your COVID-19 Task Force. What recommendations or guidance have they given you in terms of public health, priorities and state response moving forward?

Greg Gianforte: This group has been meeting. They are still formulating their recommendations. We'll be ready when we get the reins of governance in early January to implement those recommendations, but there shouldn't be any big surprises. I mean, we need to protect the most vulnerable, and we have to get our economy going again, and I think we need to do that safely.

Rachel Cramer: Members of your COVID-19 Task Force have said in subcommittee meetings, the response should be guided by the state but carried out at the local level. I'm interested in whether you think you'll continue the precedent set by Gov. Steve Bullock to allow counties to enact and enforce stricter health mandates than the state, or what are your thoughts on that right now?

Greg Gianforte: I think the best government is local government. I think the state should be taking an active role in providing guidelines and suggestions. But ultimately not every county is the same and one size fits all is not the best way to implement this. So I do believe decisions should be made locally.

Rachel Cramer: Gov. Steve Bullock has used emergency powers to institute health orders, like the mask mandates and early closure hours for some businesses, caps on group sizes, and you've talked about relying more on personal responsibility than mandates. So are you thinking of removing any of the current health mandates, any of those limits on group sizes or closure times for bars, restaurants?

Greg Gianforte: Well, I'm not going to short circuit the input process that we're going through. It's very deliberative and we're, honestly, I'm encouraged. We're seeing an improvement in infection numbers. They've been cut in more than a half just in the last couple of weeks. We now have a vaccine, which is an important light at the end of the tunnel for those that choose to take it. But I've been very clear. I think that I trust Montanans with their health, and the health of their loved ones.

The state has a very appropriate role in communicating the risks, ensuring the safety of the most vulnerable and then encouraging personal responsibility. So we can keep the most vulnerable safe and move on with our lives.

Rachel Cramer: And when you were talking about protecting the vulnerable, can you define who the vulnerable are and what protecting them would look like?

Greg Gianforte: Yeah. So the most vulnerable amongst us are our elderly, particularly people in senior living facilities or nursing homes. We know from the data that these individuals are much more prone to higher mortality rates. If infected with the virus, this is why they're at the top of the list for getting the vaccine as it comes out now. Also, people with underlying health conditions.

And I would also say our frontline healthcare workers who are really the heroes of this entire pandemic; they're on the frontline every day. They are more vulnerable than someone who's not on the front lines of our healthcare system.

In terms of specifics of the plan, we're going to wait for the committee to do their work. We're collecting the input. I think there's wisdom in many advisors. That's why we formed the COVID-10 Task Force, and I look forward to sharing the results with you as we receive it from the task force.

Rachel Cramer: Governor elect, I wanted to ask you about the Montana Comeback Plan. You mentioned specifically that you want to help the tourism, travel and hospitality industries recover through effective promotion, and so can you outline what that might look like?

Greg Gianforte: Well, in Montana, we have chosen to collect revenues from visitors who stay in hotels. That money goes to the Department of Commerce and it runs promotion programs. I think we should continue those. I think they can be more effective just as a general principle. I believe better is always possible.

Montana is such an awesome place and as people have been trapped over this last year in big concrete jungles all over the country, they want to get out in nature. They want to enjoy our incredible dude ranches and national parks and public lands. I think we have a very compelling story. We're going to use the bed tax revenue money to promote Montana as a destination, not just for tourism, but also as a place to come and live and prosper.