Governor Greg Gianforte was elected by Montana’s many conservatives in the expectation that he would governor as a conservative. The Big Sky Public Policy Institute greatly favored Gianforte’s election and continues to support Gianforte as our new governor. However, it is necessary for the sake of intellectual honesty to review his executive orders objectively and without bias.
When reviewing Executive Order 2021-2, issued on February 12, numerous problematic provisions are established that grow the size of government, diminishes private property rights, and re-establishes controversial provisions more akin to what one might expect from Governors Newsom, Cuomo, or Bullock than from a Montana Republican.
The February 12 executive order, 2021-2, declares a state of emergency in Montana due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, a largely innocuous virus that is for most people far less severe than the seasonal flu.
With a death rate of roughly .06% nationwide, children have proven nearly immune to the virus altogether. While children account for roughly 12.4% of positive cases and 2 million children have been diagnosed, only 1.3% of children who have tested positive have been hospitalized, with a death rate hovering around .01% (source link). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the last year, 178 children have died from COVID-19 nationwide. Yet in 2019, 182 children died from the flu (source link). However, because reporting on COVID-19 differs in stating the cause of death than the flu (everyone who dies with COVID-19 is reported as a “COVID-19 death,” unlike reporting for the flu, which takes other health conditions into account), it is highly likely that child deaths exclusively from COVID are under two-dozen, with the rest succombing to other, more serious and ongoing health issues that are accompanied by immune deficiencies.
The only demographic that appears vulnerable to the novel coronavirus are those 70 and older, with most deaths occuring in longterm health facilities (nursing homes) in those 80 years of age and older. Mitigating the dangers of COVID-19 in the nursing home community should prove much easier than in the general population, and mitigation efforts (like masks, for instance) are far better reserved for populations who are actually vulnerable to the illness.
Yet, when reviewing Executive Order 2021-2, it becomes apparent that Gianforte’s orders seem better reserved for time machine travel back to March 2020, when dire predictions of a worldwide extinction seemed plausible. Why the provisions of the order are necessary knowing what we now know about the paper tiger of COVID-19 is yet unanswered.
Yet, not everything in 2021-2 is bad. Some of it is positive. For this explanation, we will divide the executive order into (1) the good (2) the bad and (3) the ugly.
GENERAL MASKING: Governor Gianforte repealed the individual mask mandate instituted by Steve Bullock, while encouraging the continuance of masking voluntarily. This is overall a good thing, as Montanans can now breathe freely again. Why Montanans are being encouraged to wear masks, which have proven to be without efficacy to stop COVID-19 spread, is anyone’s guess and the bizarre mask superstition, devoid of any scientifically valid purpose, is disappointing. Nonetheless, so long as wearing the pointless masks is voluntarily, we are pleased with this aspect of 2021-2.
PHASED REOPENING: The arbitrary and capricious “phasing” put into place by Governor Bullock is now gone. This is a good thing. We need to remember that Phase 1 – the most extensive of mitigation efforts – did not require masking. Montanans should find it bizarre that even while yet in Phase 3 during Bullock’s governorship, masks were then required as essential. The phasing system was unmanageable and positionally schizophrenic, so it’s good that it’s gone.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT: Gianforte gives local government leeway to determine how best to mitigate the dangers of COVID-19. We are pleased with this, however unnecessary we believe it to be. Local control of local government is always a good thing.
MOTOR CARRIER RELIEF: Gianforte has lifted certain limits regulating hours of operation for freight and delivery of goods. This is very good, and should be repealed indefinitely.
HEALTHCARE REGULATORY RELIEF: Again, Gianforte lifted certain regulatory measurers during the course of the “pandemic” to ease access of patients to care providers.
LICENSING: This was especially good. It allows hospitals and care facilities to hire professionals who are not yet licensed in the state, or whose license have become expired. This is necessary and helpful.
CONGREGATE CARE AND TELEHEALTH: These two separate provisions in 2021-2 ease red tape to care providers. While the provision easing requirements for finger-print background checks on account of social distancing is silly and unnecessary, the other aspects of these provisions ease bureaucratic obstacles.
VACCINE ADMINISTRATION: While the COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be largely unsucessful (some reports are as high as a 50% inefficacy rate), are wholly unnecessary for most of the general public, and even deadly to the elderly (the only demographic who theoretically needs it), if they are to be administered it is sufficient that they be administered by pharmacists and not only licensed phsyicians.
PUBLIC GATHERINGS: Gianforte’s order says that public gatherings should limit themselves according to the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Currently, these provisions do not allow for regular church services, most extra-curricular school programs, and discourage people from celebrating with family during events like the Superbowl or Easter dinner. While Gianforte does not order compliance, by recommending it, he empowers local health departments to continue their draconian policies in places where tyrants abound, such as Gallatin County, Lewis & Clark County, or Whitefish, Montana.
FOOD AND BEVERAGE INDUSTRY: Gianforte “encourages” restaurants to continue utilizing curbside delivery, drive-throughs, and home delivery. The language of “encouragement” is not draconian, thankfully, but executive orders like 2021-2 don’t ordinarily “encourage” things, but demand them through executive fiat. While most restaurants probably provide such services voluntarily, if done to the exclusion of in-house dining, the measure is wholly unnecessary and is being driven by superstitious panic rather than observable medical science.
SCHOOLS: Gianforte says that schools should submit to CDC guidelines. However, the CDC guidelines for schools is full of the language of Critical Theory, asserting that COVID-19 is somehow racist and targeting racial minorities. That absurdity aside, which no Republican or other rational and sentient human being should ascribe to, is just icing on the cake for guidelines that also include universal masking. It makes zero sense for Gianforte to remove the mask mandate and then tell schools to follow the CDC’s mask mandate.
UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS: Expanding (yet again) unemployment benefits because of COVID-19 is unnecessary and, for lack of a better word, a liberal idea. At the same time Gianforte is doing everything possible to open up Montana’s economy and helping goods to get to market, expanding unemployment benefits defeats the purpose and incentivizes workers to remain unemployed. There is work in Montana, and COVID-19 should not be used an excuse not to obtain it.
INCARCERATION: While the Big Sky Public Policy Institute recognizes the existence of a burgeoning police state and acknowledges that 3 million or so people incarcertated in the United States – most for nonviolent crimes – is indeed tragic, we cannot support the release of inmates on the grounds they are vulnerable to COVID-19. We do support penal reform that can, in a measured sense, release prisoners who pose no risk of violence, but we do not believe current sentences should be reduced because of a cold.
BUSINESSES: Gianforte instructs businesses to engage in masking, social distancing, and invasive temperature checks. Again, this policy would be better placed 12 months ago, long before we knew that this virus was no more deadly than the flu. We would rank this provision in 2021-2 as among the most egregiously absurd and woefully unncessary.
EVICTION AND FORECLOSURE: If Republicans believe in private property rights, this provision should be rejected as atrociously bad policy. Gianforte has removed the capacity for property owners to evict tennets for non-payment, whether individual landlords or banks. While we understand the “optics” of evicting someone during a supposed crisis, this places an undue burden upon property owners and demands they personally absorb their renters’ debts. Who sticks up for the property owners? Who will bail them out? Americans have already received thousands upon thousands of dollars from stimulis welfare checks, and it is sufficient in covering rent or mortgage payments. This is simply a provision that no authentic conservative can support.
DISCLOSURES: Gianforte permits our private health information to be revealed to emergency service personnel. What this means is that, for example, during a traffic stop, the police officer may be notified via an information network supplemented with COVID-positive individuals. This is frightening, as there are numerous accounts of Montana law enforcement demanding individuals return to their home for quarantine during traffic stops (at least once to a Montana legislator and spouse). Investigation by the Big Sky Public Policy Institute has previously revealed that until mid-summer, the Montana Highway Patrol was notified of positive cases and they did, in fact, prohibit individuals from safely traveling on the state’s roads. Gianforte’s provision will renew this. Keep in mind that laws through the United States prohibit emergency personnel from being notified of AIDS or HIV diagnosis of patients, and COVID-19 is obviously far less perilous than AIDS or HIV. Gianforte’s order specifically says that HIPPA can now be ignored.
APPLICABILITY: Gianforte’s order 2021-2 states that local government health directives can be usurped and transcended by Gianforte’s order to the extent they are less restrictive. In other words, lighter or less restrictive measurers by freedom-valuing counties must submit instead to Gianforte’s more strict measurers. However, counties are not restricted from issuing directives more restrictive than his own. What this means is that counties who have adequately assessed COVID-19 to be exagerrated must forego their local control to submit to the state. However, counties (like Gallatin) or cities (like Whitefish) who have catastrophized COVID-19 may pass harsher and more restrictive measures. This particular aspect of 2021-2 is especially egregious.