Dr. Greg Holzman, the state’s chief medical officer, has announced his resignation, according to a source with direct knowledge of the resignation.
However, it is unclear when Holzman will leave his position.
In a statement provided by a spokesperson for the Department of Public Health and Human Services, agency Director Adam Meier said he appreciated Holzman’s work. The department did not cite a departure date.
“He’s done an incredible job as a medical advisor during the COVID-19 pandemic and through an ever-changing environment,” Meier said in the statement. “He has worked tirelessly, and I look forward to continuing to work with him over the next few months on the state’s vaccine rollout.”
Holzman has worked at the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services since 2015, according to his LinkedIn profile. The profile said he previously served as deputy director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office for State, Tribal, Local and Territorial Support.
A voicemail left for Holzman at his office was not immediately returned Friday morning.
Gov. Greg Gianforte followed up Friday on an announcement he made earlier this week and removed the statewide mask mandate.
Best medical practices suggest wearing a tight-fitting or even two masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In September, Holzman said the number of deaths from the coronavirus had surpassed motor vehicle fatalities. People wear seat belts to prevent premature deaths and undue suffering, and he said people needed to take precautions for COVID-19 as well.
“Watch your distance. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. For fellow Montanans, for health, for the economy,” Holzman said at a news conference. “We need to do it all for each other.”
He said he knew people had COVID-19 fatigue, but they needed to continue to work together or face more preventable, untimely deaths and suffering.
As of Friday morning, the state department of health had tallied 1,320 deaths from the coronavirus. Case counts spiked in Montana over the fall but have trended downward in recent weeks.
All told, 96,852 people in the state have been infected. As of Friday, 43,778 people in Montana also have been fully vaccinated, according to the state dashboard.
Even without the mandate, Pat Zellar, spokesperson for RiverStone Health in Yellowstone County, said earlier this week that people should still wear masks. “It is the healthy and smart thing to do,” she said. “The virus is still with us in our community … the risk is still there, we know through scientific research that masks help.”
Despite lifting the mandate — part of Gianforte’s plan to shift the responsibility of controlling the virus away from government mandates to individual responsibility — Gianforte encouraged people to continue wearing masks.
“Since we’re not out of the woods yet, I will continue to wear a mask, and I encourage all Montanans to do the same to protect themselves, their loved ones and their neighbors,” he said at a Wednesday press conference.
While there will not be one overruling mask mandate, local health officials and private businesses can still put their own restrictions in place, Gianforte said.
The move to remove the mandate was contingent on two things: civil liability for businesses against lawsuits relating to COVID and increased vaccination.
The governor signed Senate Bill 65 into law Wednesday. During his first week in office, he updated phase 1B of the vaccine rollout to include all Montanans more than 70 years old and those aged 16-69 with serious underlying conditions.