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Montana assisted living facility told to enforce mask rules

| August 18, 2020 11:20 AM

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — An assisted living facility in Montana has been ordered to comply with state and local requirements for employees to wear masks while at work to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The Missoula City-County Health Department issued the order Friday to Ty Harding, owner of the Beehive Homes franchise in Missoula.

Harding told the Missoulian newspaper that Beehive was not aware that the county's mask rules were more strict than the statewide mask mandate. The governor’s mandate allows an exception for face coverings when speaking to hearing-impaired persons. The county’s mandate does not include that exception.

Six complaints were made against the facility from July 16 to Aug. 11, the order states. Staff were notified that the stricter mask mandate applied in Missoula County on July 16. However, other complaints followed about staff and contractors.

Beehive has ordered transparent face masks so staff can communicate with residents who are hearing impaired, Harding said.

Facility manager Erin Heitzmann said she disagrees with the county's order.

“We're taking away the last little shred of humanity,” she said, arguing the residents may fare better with traditional person-to-person contact. “We love them. They know us, and they are important to us.”

Montana has had two large outbreaks of COVID-19 at assisted living facilities. One in Toole County resulted in six deaths while another in Billings has led to 16 deaths.