Governor Steve Bullock announced on Wednesday a statewide directive requiring face coverings/masks in Montana. The directive is effective immediately in counties that have four or more active cases of COVID-19. The directive requires that masks be used in most indoor settings and where social distancing cannot be maintained. Bullock said businesses will have the right to deny entry of anyone not wearing a mask. Click here for details on the directive.
Trisha Gardner, the health officer for the Cascade City-County Health Department in Great Falls, provided answers to some questions about masks.
While wearing a mask might seem self-explanatory, Gardner explained that masks must be worn in a specific way to be effective. “Masks should cover both your mouth and your nose. Having them under your nose like this, you’re still exposing people to particles. So we wanna make sure it covers your nose and down below your chin so it covers your mouth,” she said.
Although the mandate requires that masks be worn in public, different rules apply for different public establishments. For example, customers must wear masks when entering and leaving restaurants and bars, but don’t have to wear masks while dining or drinking.
“Places like restaurants and bars when you’re physically drinking or eating it’s prohibitive to have a mask on and do those things. But if you’re just in there socializing, you should still be wearing a mask,” Gardner said.
However, in the periods during which wearing a mask is not prohibitive, like while socializing or waiting for food or drink, it’s best to wear a mask.
“If you’re sitting down for dinner, take your mask off while you’re having dinner. We kind of naturally eat and we might say a few words in between and that’s ok. If you’re sitting down and having a drink - same thing. If you’re pretty consistently drinking it’s appropriate to have it off during that time but if you have a bottle of water sitting there and for 10 minutes you’re socializing and not drinking that drink, wear that mask within those 10 minutes,” Gardner said.
Restaurants and bars aren’t the only establishments in which patrons can take their masks off. Bowling alleys and gyms also allow this. Gardner explains why.
“Part of it is, with strenuous exercise it may not be practical to keep a mask on. That may impede your ability to breathe as you need to with that strenuous exercise,” Gardner said.
As Montanans wear their masks regularly, their daily wear will necessitate frequent mask-washing. “I think at a minimum you should be looking at every week if you’re using them kind of intermittently. If you’re using them all day long, every day you’re gonna look at probably a higher frequency of washing those cloth masks,” Gardner said.
Washing can also take the place of owning multiple masks, in the case that someone doesn’t have access to more than one.
“I think if you have the ability to just have one and wash it frequently enough, that’s fine. Of course most people don’t want to have to wash just a small mask every day or every couple of days so if they can have more than one that’s great,” Gardner said.