Down to Business: To mask or not to mask?

by Rebekah King
| July 22, 2020 1:00 AM

To mask or not to mask, that seems to be the question. On July 15, Gov. Steve Bullock issued a directive requiring masks in most indoor spaces and for certain organized outdoor activities. I cannot say I was surprised.

Two weeks ago, I received an email discussing face masks and the increased daily COVID-19 case count in Montana. Around the same time, Missoula County mandated facemasks, putting the responsibility of enforcement on the businesses. By the end of that week, I knew if things did not change, masks would be required. It was that day that I began wearing a face mask consistently.

Now let me be clear, this is not a political statement. It may or may not reflect my personal beliefs. I am not trying to push an agenda. I am simply sharing why I made the decision.

Our Bigfork businesses are in a catch-22 right now. The mask mandate was effective immediately. Owners and managers had no time to prepare. They were instantly obligated to provide masks for employees and enforce a policy on the public while trying to maintain business as usual during the busy summer season. Many are leaving the decision to “mask up” to their individual employees and customers. Their choices may be based on personal feelings, out of concern for losing customers or they are simply fatigued and unable to deal with any more changes. And customers are being lost.

Many are enforcing the mask mandate. As a reward for following the rules, they too are losing customers. Some are losing employees as well.

One local Bigfork business is looking at reducing their hours due to employees refusing to wear a mask. Having to choose between staying open or employees not wearing a mask is not an option for them because of the looming liability questions. Montana currently has not clarified liability protections to employers. There exist questions of liability involving the public and community as well. And some, of course, have personal concerns for their health, or the health of those around them.

As I have responded to numerous phone calls and emails from members, visitors and individuals this past week, I have realized there are few correct answers. Lodging facilities are experiencing cancellations from those who were hoping to escape mask requirements in their home state. Others are traveling to Montana, mask in hand, feeling safer appreciative of the new directive. As I was writing this, I received a call from a business that is temporarily closing due to an employee’s possible exposure to COVID19. Last week, I had the exact opposite conversation with another.

I cannot tell you, or them, who is right or wrong.

I have read the governor’s most recent directive several times while searching for an answer to a member’s question. What stands out to me is “the use of face coverings is a modest imposition that can do a great deal to keep … Montana businesses open.” That is exactly why I decided to begin wearing a mask two weeks ago. If by wearing a facemask I could help ensure that the businesses in my community stay open, it is a small sacrifice for me to make. Because of my job, my personal feelings on the mask debate are irrelevant. My job, like many, depends on the doors of our brick and mortar stores being open. I want that to happen.

The facemask mandate was something that no one hoped for, but it did happen! In response to it, the Bigfork Area Chamber of Commerce delivered posters to over 100 of our members. They simply said “Face masks required per governor’s order. Be Kind. We just want to stay open.”

And that really is the bottom line: Face masks are required. Be Kind. Our Businesses just want to stay open!

The Bigfork Area Chamber of Commerce as various posters available to be printed at the UPS Store in Bigfork. Posters are free to members. Non-members are asked to pay for printing.