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The Gallatin City-County Health Board will meet Wednesday at 7 a.m. to decide whether to extend local health rules aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus and that are generally stricter than those included in the statewide directive Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte unveiled last week.

The health board will vote on whether to maintain the countywide mask mandate, limitations on business operations, restrictions on visitation to long-term care and assisted living facilities and protocols for isolation and quarantine. The board will also decide whether to continue pursuing a lawsuit related to the existing rules.

The board will listen to public comment and review scientific and epidemiological data before voting on each of the rules and on the lawsuit.

The countywide mask rule expires Wednesday and the board will decide whether to extend it until April 20.

The rule requires people to wear face coverings in most public settings but makes some exceptions, including for people with certain medical conditions.

The health board first implemented the county mask mandate in July. It largely aligned with a statewide mask rule enacted by former Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock. The health board then extended the local rule for 90 days when it came up for renewal in October. It is once again up for renewal on Wednesday.

Health experts say masks can help limit the spread of COVID-19, but some who have spoken at previous health board meetings have questioned their efficacy and said requiring masks impinges upon their personal freedoms.

Gianforte has promised to rescind the statewide mask rule once the most vulnerable Montanans receive a COVID-19 vaccine and the state Legislature approves liability protections for businesses, schools, nonprofits and places of worship.

Gianforte has not provided a timeline for when he will lift the rule but said he hopes to do so in weeks rather than months.

The state is making progress on Gianforte’s two benchmarks.

Those over 70, people of color and those with certain underlying health conditions will begin receiving the vaccine this month. A liability protection bill passed the Senate on Monday and will next be considered by the House.

On Wednesday, the health board will also decide whether to extend the health rule that requires many businesses to operate at 50% capacity, to limit tables to six individuals and to close between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., except for delivery and carry-out services. The rule also restricts many group gatherings to 25 people.

If the board renews the rule, it would remain in place until April 20 unless revoked or modified based on certain benchmarks including cases remaining at or below 25 per 100,000 people for two consecutive weeks or the county’s positivity rate declining to 5% for two consecutive weeks.

The board implemented the rule on business operations and group gatherings in November as COVID-19 cases were surging.

At the time, the health board said the rule would limit human interaction and, in turn, reduce the spread of the virus. Some business owners pushed back, saying the restrictions would be economically devastating.

A few weeks later, Bullock approved similar rules at the state level.

Gianforte rescinded these rules last week but said local health boards could enact their own, more stringent local rules if they saw fit.

The local business restrictions led to a lawsuit that the health board will also consider Wednesday.

The Gallatin City-County Board of Health and Health Officer Matt Kelley sued Rocking R Bar in late November after the business remained open past 10 p.m. despite a warning that it was violating local health rules.

A judge granted a preliminary injunction against the bar.

Last week, Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen ordered Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert to dismiss the lawsuit.

Lambert, a Republican, said he wouldn’t comply with the order because the state isn’t a party to the case. He also said that the law Knudsen, also a Republican, cited in his order requires those involved in the case — the health board and Kelley — to agree to the dismissal.

Kelley has said he does not agree with the dismissal.

At the Wednesday meeting, the health board will vote on whether to end the lawsuit.

The board will also consider Wednesday whether to extend until April 20 the local rule that permits visitors at long-term care and assisted-living facilities if they meet strict standards including having gone 14 days without a COVID-19 case, a reduction from the previous 28-day standard.

Long-term care and assisted-living facilities were closed to visitors for months because the elderly are more at risk of severe illness with COVID-19 and because congregate care settings are more prone to outbreaks.

Over the summer, the health board decided to allow visitors under certain conditions because the isolation was negatively affecting residents.

The board will also vote Wednesday on whether to continue until April 20 the local rule requiring those who have been exposed to or have contracted COVID-19 to isolate or quarantine to avoid transmitting the disease to others.

The health board’s review of the local rules comes as Gallatin County is seeing cases stabilize with about 70 to 100 new cases each day. The number of cases is lower than it was in mid-November, but Kelley, the health officer, has said it is still straining the county’s health system.

As of Monday, Gallatin County had 631 active cases with 13 active hospitalizations. A total of 41 residents had died from the disease and 9,989 had recovered.

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Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.