GREAT FALLS — On July 6, the Retail Industry Leaders Association sent a letter to the National Governors Association asking governors to require face masks while shopping or in public places nationwide, barring any medical exemption.
Governor Steve Bullock has encouraged Montanans to wear face masks when in public and social distancing is not possible, but so far has stopped short of making them mandatory yet.
The Governor released the following statement to MTN in response to the letter:
“I’m heartened that several associations representing businesses, restaurants, taverns, breweries and more have called on Montanans to wear masks when social distancing is not possible and many groups have requested their members require frontline workers to wear masks and work together to stay open. I remain hopeful that Montanans will take seriously the recommendations of all those who work on the frontlines so that we don’t have to get to the point of a mandate on masks.”
So far, more than 20 states have made masks mandatory in some capacity while in public, but it appears as though mask requirements will be left up to individual counties in the Treasure State for the time being.
Missoula and Big Horn Counties are the only two counties to impose such a requirement thus far, but some local business owners think that more counties, or even the state, should follow suit.
“I can’t make people wear masks, but I think masks should be enforced because people get relaxed, think everything is fine, and then it turns out to increase,” said Kirk Wood, who owns the toy store Toylapalooza in Great Falls. “I’m not sure with tourists coming in, leaving other states that that’s helping, but I think masks should be mandatory again because people have gotten comfortable, they think it’s okay to go out and next thing you know it increases.”
Many downtown businesses in Great Falls recommend that their customers wear face masks when inside their stores, but have not gone so far as to require them. Without the requirement, Wood says he’s seeing about 30 percent of his customers come in with masks on, while the rest aren’t.
Down the street, it’s a similar story at Montana Mosaic. “It’s 50-50 actually,” said owner Carolyn Brown. “We’re not mandating masks. If you do come in wearing a mask, I will be more than happy to put mine on, but if you don’t I will definitely keep my social distance, six feet apart, but we are not mandating it at the moment.”
Both Wood and Brown see the benefit of a potential statewide mask mandate, but they told a different story when asked if they would be 100% in favor of one.
“One, I know people have health issues that can’t have them, and then two, they don’t believe it,” explained Brown. “I’m 50-50 on it, I know it’s out there, but then again I also want to please my customers. For them wearing a mask, if they’re wearing it, I will be more than happy to put my neck gaiter up and over.”
“I’d make it mandatory,” Wood said matter-of-factly. “There’s a lot of places I’ve gone to in town that they’re not wearing masks either. People have gotten lax and cases are really increasing all over the U.S. again, mainly down south, but it’s starting to hit here again.”
States including California, Maryland, and North Carolina have all imposed some form of mask mandate. In California, face coverings are required in public indoor spaces, while shopping, using public transportation, and in public outdoor spaces when social distancing is not possible. Across the country in North Carolina, masks must be worn in public whenever social distancing is not possible.
Governor Bullock has posted a number of pro-mask messages on his official Twitter page, @GovernorBullock, over the past few months, often using the hashtag “#MaskUpMT”, including this post from July 12.
For the time being, it appears as though Montana will not join the growing list of states to require masks in some capacity, although government and health officials continue to encourage people to don face coverings when in public in circumstances that social distancing is not possible.