Montana’s Mask Mandate Has Been Lifted. Why Aren’t All Montanans Celebrating?

Here’s what might work better when it’s another state’s turn to mask down

Bo Stapler, MD
Medium Coronavirus Blog
3 min readFeb 17, 2021

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Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

On February 12, Montana became the third state to rescind its statewide mask directive. While it would be unreasonable to expect such an effort to be coordinated to perfection or to the satisfaction of everyone, I believe in this case there was significant opportunity for improvement. Here’s why:

Timing is everything. Gov. Greg Gianforte’s lifting of Montana’s mask mandate was not contingent on the state meeting a specific target in the number of cases, the reproductive number (also referred to as R₀), or a portion of individuals being vaccinated. Instead, it arrived on the heels of new legislation to protect businesses from litigation related to the novel coronavirus.

I personally believe such legislation makes sense, but it shouldn’t serve as the trigger to remove a public health guideline. Scientific data ought to be the driving force of such decisions, and it appears the leaders of my home state neglected to make that clear.

In the midst of a pandemic, applying a threshold for certain health guidelines serves to reassure the public that their safety comes before the political interests of their leaders. For example, in October, when Covid-19 cases were rising exponentially, the county health officer where I live announced that changes in capacity limits for restaurants and bars would take effect if the county exceeded 50 cases per 100,000.

Invariably, some members of the public were resistant to such restrictions. This reaction was understandable, particularly for people who were depending on the patronage of their businesses to maintain their livelihood, but when leaders used concrete statistical criteria to set an expectation, those individuals could, at least to some degree, be reassured that mitigation efforts were based on factual information rather than the whims of health care officials on a power trip.

Conversely, others remain leery of dropping safety precautions at the moment. These individuals are not only hesitant to remove their own masks but are concerned about being in an environment where others have done so.

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Bo Stapler, MD
Medium Coronavirus Blog

Health & science writer on Elemental & other pubs. Hospitalist physician in internal medicine & pediatrics. Interpreter of medical jargon. bostapler.medium.com