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Missoula County Adopts Mask Requirement Rule For Indoor Public Spaces

A man wearing a COVID-19 mask.

Missoula County health officials Thursday mandated mask use in almost all indoor public settings. The rule, designed to reduce the spread of COVID-19, takes effect immediately.

The new mask requirement doesn’t mean Missoulians have to put on a face covering the moment they leave the house, but they should keep one handy.

That’s because the Missoula County Board of Health voted Thursday to require people aged 12 and up to wear face-coverings inside public spaces.

Grocery shopping? You’ll need a mask. Meeting face-to-face with your attorney? Mask up. Same with hailing an Uber, picking up a prescription or buying a snack at the gas station.

Missoula City-County Health Officer Ellen Leahy says a mask, "Absorbs some of the respiratory droplets that would spread. It also cuts down on some of the propulsion that comes from talking, coughing – all those types of things that spread respiratory droplets."

Missoula officials say people who refuse to wear one won’t be penalized. It will be up to business owners and those who operate public spaces to enforce the rule. The health department will check up on businesses to make sure they’re enforcing the rules, which are complaint driven. A warning will follow for those who continue to defy the mandate. A ‘health officer order’ which could lead to a closure is a measure of last resort.

And if a customer refuses to wear a mask in a business? Health officials advise treating it the same as if someone insists on walking in barefoot or without a shirt; if necessary, call law enforcement for assistance.

There are exceptions to the rule: if no clients or customers are in a public building and employees can maintain six-foot social distancing guidelines, masks are not required.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock encourages people to wear masks indoors or in crowds but stops short of mandating them.

Missoula is the state’s second county requiring face coverings in public spaces. Big Horn County health officials announced a similar order two weeks ago.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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