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Bullock announces directive to require mask wearing in certain environments


Last updated 7/16/2020 at 12:05pm

At a press conference Wednesday Gov. Steve Bullock announced a directive requiring people in counties with four or more active cases of COIVD-19 to wear face coverings in certain indoor business settings, as well as outdoor gathering of 50 or more if social distancing is impossible, though he strongly encouraged people in all counties to wear them regardless.

Bullock said this directive is in response to the recent surge of COVID-19 cases and the deaths have come with it.

He said in the last month the state went from 55 to over 1,000 cases, with active cases doubling in the past two weeks, with contact tracing, cluster investigation and similar methods making up almost half of all positive cases found since May.

He specifically cited Canyon Creek Memory Care, a care facility for people with dementia and memory problems which experienced an outbreak resulting in 90 cases.

Multiple deaths have been reported due to that outbreak.

“This is a heartbreaking reminder of the devastation COVID-19 can inflict upon vulnerable Montana,” Bullock said.

Bullock, a Democrat cannot run for re-election due to term limits and is running for the U.S. Senate, facing incumbent Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Wendie Fredrickson, who is running as a Green Party candidate although the Green Party told the Havre Daily News they have no affiliation with her.

Bullock said the new directive includes customers, employees and contractors in any indoor space open to the public including government buildings and nonprofits as well as businesses.

People who are eating or drinking in a restaurant or bar do not have to wear a mask while doing so, but must wear a mask if they are not eating or drinking, just socializing in the business.

Bullock said masks must be provided if people are going to be in these spaces and signs should be posted reminding people about the rule.

He said there are exceptions, like in restaurants for the purpose of eating, during strenuous physical activity and communication for those with hearing impairment, as well as during theater and cultural performances, and for facial identification.

Bullock said business may ask people to leave if they refuse to follow this directive, and visitors to the state are expected to follow the directive as well.

“No shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service, and it really is that simple,” he said.

Bullock encouraged business to take advantage of Business Adaptability grants to cover COVID-19 expenses like masks.

Bullock said this directive is based on the actions of other states, even conservative ones like Texas and Louisiana, and is necessary for public safety.

“Inability to contain the spread of COVID-19 endangers vulnerable Montanans,” he said, “It endangers business that want to keep their doors open, and it endangers hospitals who need the capacity to treat both COVID-19 patients and all other needing medical care.”

Bullock said he appreciates that most Montanans have been taking the pandemic seriously and urged them to continue doing so.

“I thank all of those who have taken seriously their personal responsibility and their role in stopping the spread of COIVD-19,” he said. “Though these efforts may go unnoticed in the amount of cases that never occurred as a result of Montanan’s vigilance, they are noticed in the act of being a good neighbor and caring about the health of other Montanans.”

However, Bullock said there are many in the state that need to be taking the situation more seriously.

“Too many continue to congregate in large gatherings, where a single person can spread COIVD-19 to many others,” he said, “And too many others are not wearing masks in settings where social distancing is impossible.”

Bullock said despite being encouraged by the president’s recent attempts to depoliticize the situation, he realizes that the mask issue is politicized, but he said, the pandemic is not.

“COVID-19 doesn’t care if you’re Republican or Democrat or an Independent,” he said, “… It’s an unthinking parasite that can infect you either way and relies on you to spread it to others.”

Bullock said the Supreme Courts of the U.S. and Montana have recognized governments’ authority and duty to protect the public from infectious disease using methods like quarantines and-stay-at home orders.

“Compared some of those past measures the use of face masks is a modest imposition,” he said.

Bullock said he wants local public health and law enforcement to act primarily as a source of education for the effectiveness of masks and how much they help contain the spread, but that they also have the authority to enforce the directive if there are egregious and repeated violations.

“Asking folks to do the right thing just isn’t always going to be enough,” he said.

Bullock was asked how he expects people to follow this directive without more active enforcement. He said enforcement is a responsibility that falls on more than local public health and law enforcement.

“Enforcement responsibility falls on all of us,” he said.

In response to a question about the contention that some make that they have a constitutional right to get sick and therefore masks shouldn't be required, Bullock said personal liberty is important, but sometimes constraints can be necessary for the greater good, otherwise any law could be seen as an infringement upon freedom.

“An individual may think they have a constitutional right to get sick if they so choose, but they do not have the constitutional right to get other people sick,” he said, “... We're living as part of a society and a community in order to take care of one another.”

Bullock also provided an update on the state’s testing capacity, which he said has recently hit a few roadblocks despite having performed 55,000 tests since mid-June.

He said was told Monday that Quest Diagnostic, which has been handling a great deal of the state’s testing, will not be able to perform sentinel or surveillance testing for at least two to three weeks.

He said this may have consequences for community events going into next week that may have to be canceled.

However, he said, symptomatic testing will continue as normal and the state lab is still processing those tests well.

Bullock also said he’s dissatisfied with how testing is being handled on the national level.

“I’m deeply concerned with what I feel is a lack of national testing strategy from the federal government,” he said.

Bullock also announced the availability of more funding to help schools in the state cover pandemic related expenses. He said $5 million is available for Montana K-12 schools as well as funds for private schools with similar expenses.

He said the Department of Disaster and Emergency Services will be making a bulk purchase of PPE supplies that will be distributed to schools, including gloves, no-touch thermometers, masks and related equipment.

He said, despite uncertainty about whether or not schools will be re-opening in the fall, the state should be prepared to help them.

“While we’re way off from determining what things will look like in the fall, it’s in our best interest of everyone that we start prepping now,” he said.

Bullock said that, despite the surge, there is still good news.

He said that while the recent hospitalizations are concerning, the state is still in a safe position when it comes to ICU beds and ventilators. And Montana still has the lowest number of positives and hospitalizations per capita in the continental United States.

“Today opens yet another chapter in our continued efforts, together, to mitigate the spread of this virus,” he said.


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