Biggest local stories of 2021: COVID cases surged as health officials lost power

Jesse Chaney

COVID-19 continued to dominate local headlines in 2021, but the government’s response to the pandemic looked much different this year.

One of Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte’s first orders of business after taking office in January was to lift the statewide mask mandate enacted by his Democratic predecessor Steve Bullock. While Lewis and Clark County and some other local jurisdictions opted to keep their own masking requirements in place at the time, they were later forced to lift those rules under new legislation passed by the Republican-dominated Legislature.

In May, Lewis and Clark County health officials reluctantly announced that they would no longer enforce the county’s mask mandate due to a new law that removed the ability of local governments and health officials to issue ordinances or resolutions that deny customers access to a business’ goods or services, or that require a business to do so. The law effectively voided any local mandates that involved business closures, capacity limits or requirements that customers wear masks or not be allowed on the premises.

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