McLean protests governor's mask mandate
July 17, 2020
Editor’s note: This version adds Gov. Steve Bullock’s reasons given for the directive telling people to wear maksk.
Hill County Commissioner Diane McLean during the weekly commission business meeting Thursday raised concerns about Gov. Steve Bullock's directive that requires people in counties with four or more active COVID-19 cases wear masks in certain indoor business environments and large outdoor gatherings.
McLean said she was wrestling with the morality of this directive and the larger economic setback of the state, which she said, has caused her considerable stress.
"I'm really struggling to know where this mandate from the state is going, and whether or not it's something that's right," she said, "I was always the compliant child, I'm not brave, I'm not a protester, I'm not one to stand up to people or things, but I've been churning inside, not sleeping, and really struggling with this whole set back that's come to our state and I think of going to hurt many, many, many businesses and individuals."
During his press conference in which he announced the directive, Bullock said it was due to the explosion of new cases and deaths due to the virus.
“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.”
“ … 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.”
The directive states that people in indoor settings like businesses, nonprofit organizations and government facilities that are open to the public must wear masks whether they are employees, customers, or contractors. Masks will also be required for outdoor gatherings of 50 or more people where social distancing is impossible or impractical.
Bullock said exceptions will be made for things like eating at a restaurant, doing strenuous physical activity or communicating with someone who's hearing impaired in his press conference about the directive Wednesday.
McLean said the directive might have motives other than protecting the health of Montanans.
"This is a wrinkle that I think is a lot more than playing old games to get by for a little while," she said, "I think it's got deeper roots and a lot more significance than just the cover of, 'We're doing this for public health.'"
McLean also questioned the legality of the directive and said it is unnecessary.
"It's not warranted, in my opinion. I'm not sure that it's legal, but I'm really struggling," she said.
Hill County Commissioner Mike Wendland said he understood her concerns.
"We're all kind of struggling with the interpretation of what the governor's mandate says there," he said.
McLean said she wouldn't be in the courthouse today and was planning not to be there Monday either.
"I don't know if this is the way that I'm going to do off of work for a little while until I sort things out for myself," she said.
McLean also said she had concerns about the state of her own mental health, which she said, is a common issue within her family.
"I sincerely feel that my mental health is not in a good spot right now," she said.
McLean said the commission has spoken with representatives from Blaine County who talked about the possibility of counties being held financially responsible for perceived negligence.
"Our county is liable if someone was to come and claim that we were negligent in following this mandate," she said, "... I think that puts us in a zero position."
"I would never put our county at risk, but at the same time I've got to figure out what I think is right and I have to follow my own heart as well," she added.
Wendland asked if she had seen that there were new cases in Hill County the previous night.
McLean suggested that those test may not be meaningful.
"I did, but there's been so much information about tests that are not valid, who knows if those are valid or not," she said.
Wendland said the matter was discussed at the county officials meeting earlier that day, which McLean had not attended.
Recent positive tests were briefly mentioned by Hill County Public Health Director Kim Larson and COVID-19 and the governor's directive were topics of conversations, but at no point was the validity of recent tests discussed during that meeting.
McLean also said she sympathized with the people of Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation during their shutdown.
The Chippewa Creek Business Committee had instituted a lockdown after Rocky Boy Health Center had confirmed cases. Wednesday, the Business Committee extended that lockdown through Monday.
"My heart goes out to those people who find themselves in that situation and find themselves being quarantined, probably against their will," she said.