Facemask Mandate

Richland County is among many Montana counties wear facemasks are now mandated for people who attend certain public events and visit private businesses with public access.

Say hello to “masking up.” Gov. Steve Bullock this week announced the state is mandating all counties with four or more confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 to require residents to wear facemasks when visiting public spaces — including privately owned stores, restaurants and bars.

“Asking people to do the right thing isn’t always enough,” the governor said at the beginning of a July 15 press conference.

The governor announced during the media event that it’s time for the state of Montana to “mask up.”

“I wanna explain how this mask requirement will work,” Gov. Bullock told the media, noting private businesses with open public spaces will be required to provide customers with facemasks.

Furthermore, people attending large public gatherings will be required to wear facemasks, with a few exceptions.

“There’s a mask requirement for large gatherings of 50 people or more,” Gov. Bullock said. “Businesses can ask you to leave if you don’t wear a mask and you don’t have an exception.”

One exception encompasses people giving performances, including musicians and stage actors, and people with various disabilities that are negatively impacted by the wearing of a facemask, such as a person with a physical hearing dysfunction. [July 16, 2020, clarification: the mandate states under Exceptions: “Businesses, government offices, other persons responsible for indoor spaces... are not required to ensure” that “persons seeking to communicate with someone who is hearing impaired” wear face coverings.]

The governor alluded to live performances, such as concerts and plays, but he did not state whether street performers might qualify for an exemption.

In addition, children under a certain age [5 years old] will not be required to wear facemasks while in public, despite the fact they are often cited among the most “vulnerable populations.”

“Children under the age of 2 should not wear facemasks,” Gov. Bullock stated emphatically.

Richland County, which recently announced 34 confirmed positive cases [as of July 17] of COVID-19, is among municipalities throughout the state that falls into the category of areas where four or more positive-tested coronavirus cases have been confirmed.

Where Is Your Mask?The governor gave clear authority for public health officials and law-enforcement officers to enforce today’s facemask mandate. However, Gov. Bullock stated the purpose is to encourage participation, not to punish offenders.

“I wanna be clear that the role of health and law enforcement is about educating people,” Gov. Bullock said, noting the purpose of enforcement is not to issue fines or citations to people who don’t comply with the facemask mandate.

The governor spoke about the “historic authority” and “duty” of the state to enact and enforce measures to “fight infectious diseases.” He noted that in the past the federal government has had wide latitude in enforcing measures to limit the spread of communicable diseases.

The governor voiced his displeasure at how the federal government has handled the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic thus far.

“I’m deeply concerned with what I think is the lack of testings strategy from our federal government,” Gov. Bullock stated, in uncharacteristic fashion.

“It’s still clear that the federal government is ill-prepared” to test, said Gov. Bullock, who, during recent media conferences, refrained from criticizing the Trump Administration.

The governor also announced that Quest Diagnostics will “no longer be able to provide results” for COVID-19 tests in Montana due to its inability to submit results in a timely fashion. However, Gov. Bullock provided few additional details about Quest.

Back to School?The governor touched briefly on the reopening of public schools. He announced the state of Montana will provide increased funding for local schools to reopen in the wake of COVID-19. However, Gov. Bullock referred the media to a forthcoming press release from his office and the state’s website for additional information about reopening public schools in the next few weeks.

The purpose of the July 15 media event clearly was to announce the facemask mandate in counties with four or more confirmed positive cases of coronavirus.

“We’re gonna team up, we’re gonna mask up, and we’re going to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Gov. Bullock said.

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