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Montana requires masks in counties with 4+ active COVID cases

by Amy Beth Hanson & Iris Samuels
| July 15, 2020 2:59 PM

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock issued a directive Wednesday requiring face coverings at indoor public spaces and at larger outdoor gatherings in counties where four or more people are known to be infected with COVID-19.

In the past month, the number of residents known to be actively infected has risen from 55 to more than 1,000, the governor’s office said.

Too many people continue to meet in large gatherings and too few are wearing masks, Bullock said in announcing the directive, which took effect immediately.

“We’ve been working over the last few weeks to get community acceptance of masks,” Bullock said, pointing to collaborations with football coaches and business associations to increase acceptance of masks. “But it isn’t enough.”

The directive currently applies in about two dozen of Montana’s 56 counties, but it can change on a daily basis. There are 12 Montana counties where no cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed, and there are three counties with three active cases on Wednesday.

Masks will be required at public gatherings of over 50 people if social distancing isn’t possible. Businesses and operators of other public indoor spaces will be able to prevent people from entering without a mask.

Exceptions include while eating or drinking at businesses that sell food or drinks, during activities such as exercise that make face coverings unsafe, or while giving speeches or other performances in front of a socially distanced audience. The directive does not apply to children under age 5.

In response to a question about those who may oppose the mask directive on a personal liberty basis, Bullock said: “An individual may think they have a constitutional right to get sick, but they don’t have a constitutional right to get other people sick.”

Montana reported a record 145 additional coronavirus cases on Wednesday. Gallatin County has 144 residents who are known to still be infected, county spokesperson Whitney Bermes said. Yellowstone County has nearly 400 people known to be infected, according to state data. Nine counties are seeing community spread, Bullock said.

Thirty-seven people are hospitalized in Montana, up from 29 known hospitalizations on Tuesday. Thirty-four people have died, including 15 who had been residents of long-term care or assisted living facilities.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. The vast majority of people recover.

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This story has been corrected to show Gallatin County is reporting that 144 residents are known to be infected. The state had reported 242.