County-Wide Masks

A woman who requested not to be named, removes her mask while leaving Alara Jewelry on June 25, 2020, in downtown Bozeman. The Gallatin City-County Health Board is considering a mandate requiring people to wear masks in public.

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The Gallatin City-County Board of Health will consider a mandate to require most people to wear face masks in most public indoor settings at a meeting next Tuesday.

Gallatin County would be the third in the state to require masks in public spaces following Missoula and Big Horn counties. According to a news release from the Gallatin City-County Health Department, the rule would require face coverings in retail businesses, bars and restaurants, government buildings and schools, and most other public indoor settings.

People who have medical conditions that would be exacerbated by face coverings and children under the age of 12 would be excluded from the rule.

Matt Kelley, health officer for Gallatin County, said in the release that as case numbers rise, face masks are the best option to slow the spread of COVID-19 without closing businesses and issuing stay-at-home orders.

“The intention of the face coverings rule is to allow the board to consider all options to slow the spread of the disease and to keep businesses open and the economy moving,” Kelley said.

Kelley said in the release that public health experts and epidemiologists recommend masks as one tool of many that aim to slow the spread of the virus.

He urged that avoiding crowds, hand-washing, staying home when sick and keeping 6 feet of distance between one another are also still important measures.

Public pressure in support of a mask mandate in Gallatin County has been building, although many have also voiced opposition. Local residents have started their own campaign to encourage mask wearing and more than 3,000 people have signed a petition asking for a local mandate. The city of Bozeman sent a letter to the board earlier this week, at the direction of city commissioners, pushing for a mandate and social distancing requirements.

Gov. Steve Bullock recently launched a campaign featuring head football coaches Jeff Choate and Bobby Hauck asking Montanans to “Mask Up.” Bullock has been strongly encouraging the use of masks and supports local requirements, but has said he would like to avoid a statewide mandate.

Those who oppose a mask mandate say it’s a violation of civil liberties.

Big Horn County’s health department issued a mask mandate for people in public places in June. The Missoula City-County Board of Health approved a mask mandate on Thursday.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, masks reduce the risk of respiratory droplets, produced during a cough, sneeze or when someone talks, from spreading to other people. The CDC notes that recent studies show that an asymptomatic person, who may think a mask is unnecessary, can transmit the virus to others.

At the same meeting on Tuesday, the board of health will also consider whether to extend an emergency rule for 90 days that requires people who have tested positive with COVID-19 to stay in isolation. That rule, that’s been in place since April, also requires close contacts of a confirmed patient and those who are symptomatic and awaiting test results to stay in quarantine.

The news release notes that the board of health is required by Montana law to “protect the public from the introduction and spread of communicable disease, including through use of isolation and quarantine measures.”

“Without that tool, we stand little or no chance of slowing down the virus,” Kelley said in the release.

Shaylee Ragar can be reached at sragar@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2607.

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Shaylee Ragar can be reached at sragar@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2607.