By Mira Brody EBS STAFF
HELENA – Effective immediately, Gov. Steve Bullock in a July 15 press conference, issued a mandatory statewide mask requirement for all counties who currently have four or more active cases of COVID-19. This directive applies to certain indoor spaces and certain organized outdoor activities with 50 or more people in attendance where social distancing is not possible.
Exceptions include strenuous physical activity, eating food or drink, for hearing impaired Montanans or for people who have a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a mask. They don’t need to be worn in private residences. Another exception is cultural or theatrical performances when the performer is a safe distance away from their audience.
Community spread has been reported in nine counties and in the past week, and Yellowstone and Gallatin counties have accounted for 60 percent of the new cases in Montana. Gov. Bullock noted the devastating outbreak at Canyon Creek Memory Care Community, which yielded 90 cases and eight deaths. In the last month active cases in the state went from 55 to over 1,000 and Montana has doubled its total number of cases since the start of July.
He says a mask mandate is intended to limit the spread of COVID-19 and that controlling the virus will allow for businesses to stay open, schools to operate and prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.
“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,” Gov. 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.”
Gov. Bullock said this mask requirements is based off similar mandates in other states. Face coverings will be available to all employees and volunteers, additionally businesses entries will have signage pertaining to face covering requirements for ages five and older.
“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,” Gov. Bullock said. “An individual might think that they have a constitutional right to get themselves sick if they so choose, but they don’t have a constitutional right to get other people sick.”
Gov. Bullock also announced a COVID-19 relief fund that will distribute $75 million to Montana schools to help them safely prepare for the upcoming school year.
He said public health agencies and law enforcement should focus their enforcement on education providing warnings about the risk of transmission, and reserving citations and penalties for only repeat violations that put the public at risk.
The directive is effective immediately and expires at the end of the declared statewide state of emergency.