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Bullock issues mask requirement in Montana

Bullock requires masks in public spaces in Montana counties with 4 or more cases. Photo: NBC Montana
Bullock requires masks in public spaces in Montana counties with 4 or more cases. Photo: NBC Montana
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Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has issued a directive requiring face coverings at indoor public spaces and at larger outdoor gatherings in counties where four or more people are known to be currently infected with COVID-19.

Bullock says too many people continue to meet in large gatherings and too few are wearing masks.

The directive currently applies to 25 of Montana's 56 counties. Montana reported a record 145 additional coronavirus cases on Wednesday, bringing the state's number of known cases to 2,096.

Thirty-seven people are hospitalized, up from 29 known hospitalizations on Tuesday. Bullock's directive came after several local governments passed or are considering similar measures.

Effective immediately in counties with 4 or more active cases, new directive requires face coverings in certain indoor business settings. They're also required in outdoor gatherings of 50 or more when social distancing is impossible.

There are some exceptions to this rule including strenuous physical activity, when you're eating food or drink, for hearing impaired Montanans or for people who have a medical condition. They don't need to be worn in private residences.

"It's just like how we put a seatbelt on when we get in the car and unbuckle it when we need to get out. There's no reason this needs to be political because COVID-19 isn't political," said Bullock.

Face coverings will be provided for all employees and volunteers. Businesses or indoor spaces must have signs that state everyone five and over must wear a mask.

In July, clusters have added more than 1/3 of the cases this month. Nine counties now report community spread. In the past week, Yellowstone and Gallatin counties have accounted for 60% of the new cases.

Bullock says workplaces are a factor in new cases in Gallatin County. He says Canyon Creek Memory Care has contributed about 90 cases. In addition, many cases appear related to small clusters of groups.

Bullock says schools need every opportunity available to safely prepare for upcoming school year. He says COVID relief fund will distribute $75 million to Montana schools to help.

Private schools will be eligible for a different amount. He says the money can go to supplies, transportation, etc. He says local school boards can't wait to see what Washington may or may not do.

The following was sent out by the Office of Governor Bullock:

Governor Steve Bullock today issued a directive requiring face coverings in certain indoor spaces and for certain organized outdoor activities in counties currently experiencing four or more active cases of COVID-19 to slow the spread of the virus in Montana.

Governor Bullock issued the directive to require businesses, government offices and other indoor spaces open to the public to ensure that employees, contractors, volunteers, customers, and other members of the public wear a face mask that covers their mouth and nose while remaining inside these spaces. The directive also requires face coverings at organized outdoor activities of 50 or more people, where social distancing is not possible or is not observed.

“Many Montanans answered the call to mask up – a call that came from our hospitals, nurses, and doctors, our vibrant small business community, our frontline workers, and our high-risk neighbors,” Governor Bullock said. “I thank all of those who take seriously their personal responsibility and their role in stopping COVID-19. But we need even more Montanans, and the visitors who come here, to mask up.”

The directive is in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation that people wear cloth face coverings in public and when around people outside one’s household. Additionally, the CDC released a study this week concluding that “mandating the use of face coverings” in a salon in Missouri likely mitigated the spread of COVID-19 and recommended consideration of broader policies requiring face coverings. In the last month, Montana’s active cases of COVID-19 have risen from 55 to more than 1,000.

“There’s no reason this needs to be political, because COVID-19 isn’t political. Instead, this is about being a Montanan and being supportive of those around us. Montanans need to not only feel safe, but be safe to continue supporting small businesses like restaurants, breweries, clothing stores, bookshops, and more. And Montanans need to be healthy to work. Mom and pop shops in Montana often have two employees: Mom and Pop themselves. If they get COVID-19, they can’t keep their business running,” continued Governor Bullock.

The directive does not require face coverings in counties with three or fewer active cases or for children under 5, though face coverings are strongly encouraged in both cases. Other exceptions include children under 2, while eating or drinking at businesses that sell food or drinks, during activities that make face coverings unsafe (like strenuous physical exercise or swimming), while giving speeches or performances in front of a socially distanced audience, while receiving medical care or for people with a preexisting condition that would make wearing a face covering unsafe.

Under the directive, businesses, government offices and other publicly operating spaces will provide face coverings for employees and volunteers, and post signs stating that face coverings are required for people 5 and older.

Businesses, other indoor spaces open to the public and sponsors of organized outdoor activities may also deny entry, refuse service or ask any person to leave if they refuse to wear a face covering. If necessary, they may rely on peace officers to enforce the state’s trespassing laws if a person refuses to wear a face covering and refuses to leave the premises.

Local public health agencies and law enforcement should focus their enforcement of this directive on education, providing warnings and education about the risk of transmission, while reserving the imposition of penalties, trespass enforcement, and other formal enforcement mechanisms for only the most egregious, repeat violations that put the public at risk.

The directive goes into effect immediately and expires at the end of the declared statewide state of emergency.

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