BOULDER — When Governor Greg Gianforte lifted Montana’s statewide mask mandate Friday, it created a situation that can be very different from county to county.
Gianforte’s directive allowed local authorities to implement their own mask mandates. Lewis and Clark County is among those that have already done so, while Jefferson County – immediately to the south – has not. That means it is up to Jefferson County businesses to make their own decisions about how to move forward.
On Friday, one business owner told MTN he was already in the process of replacing signs saying “Masks Required” with ones saying “Masks Recommended.”
The Montana City Grill and Montana City Store took a different approach, with owner Chris Rehor saying they would continue to require that customers wear masks.
“Our number-one goal is to keep our employees safe, our guests safe and our community safe during these pandemic days,” he said.
Rehor said he has received some negative reactions for his stance on masks, but that most of the response has been positive.
“I want my guests that walk in any of my businesses out here in Montana City to feel safe, and I think –the mask, my customers feel safe when they enter,” he said.
Gianforte’s directive says Montanans are still “encouraged to wear masks,” and that they should follow the “best industry practices adopted by any business they visit to slow the spread of the virus.”
Most of the Jefferson County business owners MTN spoke to Friday declined to comment on the change to the mask mandate.
The situation in the county could still change. Pam Hanna, a registered nurse and supervisor of the Jefferson County Health Department, said the county health board has had discussions over the last few months about the pros and cons of implementing a local mask mandate. She said they may consider one at their next meeting.
Hanna said they didn’t expect Gianforte to lift the mandate this soon. “I think everybody’s trying to digest this a little,” she said.
She said she’s still recommending masking to people in Jefferson County.