Seeley Swan Pathfinder -

By Andi Bourne
Pathfinder 

Statewide mandate adds to county-wide face covering order

 


On Thursday, July 16, Governor Steve Bullock issued a directive requiring face coverings in certain indoor spaces and for certain organized outdoor activities in counties currently experiencing four or more active cases of COVID-19 in an effort to slow the spread of the virus in Montana. Missoula County was ahead of the statewide mandate making a county-wide mandate requiring face coverings a week earlier on July 9. However, there are some differences in the directives that affect how businesses, managers of public spaces and individuals are required to act.

Governor Bullock issued the directive to require businesses, government offices and other indoor spaces open to the public to ensure that employees, contractors, volunteers, customers and other members of the public wear a facemask that covers their mouth and nose while remaining inside these spaces. The directive also requires face coverings at organized outdoor activities of 50 or more people, where social distancing is not possible or is not observed.

The directive is in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation that people wear cloth face coverings in public and when around people outside one’s household. In the last month, Montana’s active cases of COVID-19 have risen from 55 to more than 1,000.

The Governor’s directive does not require face coverings in counties with three or fewer active cases or for children under 5, though face coverings are strongly encouraged in both cases.

“The encouragement is for everyone to wear a mask, no matter what county you are in or the status of your county,” said Bullock. “Looking at what other states have done…I wanted to provide some degree of clarity for what other folks have done. Providing a hard number for that would provide the assistance for all Montanans to know where to go to see what the status of their county is.”

Other exceptions include children under the age of two, while eating or drinking at businesses that sell food or drinks, during activities that make face coverings unsafe (like strenuous physical exercise or swimming), while giving speeches or performances in front of a socially distanced audience, while receiving medical care or for people with a preexisting condition that would make wearing a face covering unsafe.

According to the frequently asked questions published by Missoula County City-County Health Department July 17, there are some differences between the Governor’s Directive and the Local Rule and Health Officer’s Order. In general, whichever is more stringent applies for individuals and businesses in Missoula County.

• Even though face shields are allowed in the Governor’s Directive, it is not permitted as a replacement for a cloth face covering by Missoula County. However, if someone cannot wear a face covering, a face shield may be a good accommodation, or part of a set of accommodations, for an employee wrote Missoula City-County Environmental Health Director Shannon Therriault in an email.

• Even though Missoula County said face coverings were required for 12 years and older, people ages five and older are required to wear face coverings per the Governor’s Directive.

• While the Governor’s directive is dependent on the number of active cases in the county, those in Missoula County must follow the face covering rule until further notice.

• Face coverings are required in non-public facing spaces of businesses, government offices and public indoor spaces EXCEPT when people can maintain six feet or more from other people.

• Missoula County’s order does not exempt places of worship or childcare facilities from the rule, requiring face coverings for those five and older.

• Unlike in the Governor’s Directive, there is not an exception to Missoula’s mask requirements for persons giving a speech or engaging in artistic, cultural, musical, or theatrical performances for an audience, provided that the audience is separated by at least six feet of distance.

• The Board of Health and Health Officer will reevaluate the rule on a monthly basis.

Under the Governor’s directive, businesses, government offices and other publicly operating spaces will provide face coverings for employees and volunteers, and post signs stating that face coverings are required for people five and older.

Businesses, other indoor spaces open to the public and sponsors of organized outdoor activities may also deny entry, refuse service or ask any person to leave if they refuse to wear a face covering. If necessary, they may rely on peace officers to enforce the state’s trespassing laws if a person refuses to wear a face covering and refuses to leave the premises.

Therriault wrote that the expectation is for all customers to wear face coverings while inside a business. If a customer says that they cannot wear a face covering, the business should try to accommodate them by finding a way to provide the goods or services without them entering the indoor space. For some businesses, it may not be possible to do that. Then the business should work with the individual to figure out how to provide the goods or service and still provide protection to employees and other people in the indoor space. If a person refuses to wear a face covering because they do not want to wear it, they cannot be allowed in the business or indoor public space.

“We know that is not always easy, but if businesses have clear expectations in place, have a way to accommodate those who cannot or will not wear a face covering, ensure employees wear face coverings and set the right tone/example, and make it easy for someone to wear a face covering in their business, they will be meeting the intent of the face covering requirements,” wrote Therriault. “The idea is to vastly increase the number of people wearing face coverings in order to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread. Face coverings alone are not enough – employees and the public still have to maintain six feet from other people, get tested and then stay home when showing COVID-19 symptoms, practice good hygiene and avoid large gatherings of people.”

Missoula City-County Health Department Incident Commander Cindy Farr explained in her daily briefing July 16 that there is a rise in scams. Some of these include things called Mask IDs and Mask Exemption IDs. The Department of Justice and/or the CDC supposedly endorses these and include the DOJ seal but according to the DOJ, they have not issued these cards, nor do they endorse such identification.

“We’ve seen ads suggesting that there are ‘mask exemption cards’ for sale,” said Farr. “These cards are not valid and they will not be accepted if and when presented to indicate you are exempt from the [face covering] rule.”

According to Therriault, as of July 17 the Missoula County Health Department has received 246 complaints since the county’s face covering rule went into effect with 11 of those about places in Seeley Lake. While no fines have been issued or businesses closed due to non-compliance, a fine from $10-$200 could only be assessed by a judge if a business/indoor public space operator violated the order, was cited by law enforcement for a misdemeanor under MCA 50-2-124(1), was charged by a prosecutor and found guilty after a jury trial or pleaded guilty.

 Local public health agencies and law enforcement should focus their enforcement of this directive on education, providing warnings and education about the risk of transmission, while reserving the imposition of penalties, trespass enforcement and other formal enforcement mechanisms for only the most egregious, repeat violations that put the public at risk.

“An individual might think they have a constitutional right to get sick if they so choose, but they don’t have a constitutional right to get other people sick,” said Bullock during his press conference July 16. “More than that, our liberties are so, so important. But every liberty can be constrained at times for the greater good.”

The Governor’s directive goes into effect immediately and expires at the end of the declared statewide state of emergency. The full directive is available at https://www.seeleylake.com/home/customer_files/article_documents/mask_directive_final.pdf. Also, visit https://www.seeleylake.com/home/customer_files/article_documents/faqs_mandatory_face_coverings.pdf for Missoula County’s frequently asked questions and https://www.seeleylake.com/home/customer_files/article_documents/postive_case_at_a_business.pdf for guidance to businesses that have a staff member that tests positive.

 

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