As the state continues to gradually reopen and ease restrictions on public and private gatherings, let’s all work together to minimize the risk of sparking a rise in the number and rate of COVID-19 infections. In Montana, we are very lucky. As of Monday, May 4, the state had only 457 confirmed cases in 31 counties. Twenty-five counties, including Teton County, had no confirmed cases. This is mainly because Gov. Steve Bullock shut down the state, restricting people’s actions and closing many businesses and all public schools. Now those restrictions are starting to come off. Most businesses can be open if they choose, and that brings us to the issue of wearing or not wearing facial masks.

The governor’s directives do not mandate facial masks for anyone, but the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (after not recommending this earlier) is now recommending that people wear homemade cloth face coverings (non-medical grade) in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

The CDC advises the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. In other words, facial masks are worn to reduce the risk of the wearer inadvertently transmitting COVID-19 to other people. This is especially important since scientists currently think that 20% to 25% of people who get this viral illness do not develop any symptoms, but are silently contagious.

So, as businesses in Choteau and other communities open, some owners are requiring their employees to wear face masks to prevent them from making customers sick. Other owners are also requiring shoppers/customers to wear masks in their buildings. In some places across the nation, shoppers are threatening to boycott stores that are requiring them to wear masks while shopping. What the heck? Do these folks not understand that by wearing facial masks, they are protecting others? Why is that a bad thing? In one state, city staff received death threats because the mayor wanted to require masks to be worn in public. Wow!

We know that Teton County residents are generous, charitable and always ready to lend a helping hand to people who are having troubles. Lord knows, folks around here routinely donate to benefit good causes and rally around people who are sick or injured. Wearing masks while shopping is the same type of considerate, generous action. It says: “I don’t know whether I am contagious, but I care enough about the rest of my community to take this small, painless, inexpensive precaution.”

Wearing a facial mask while shopping is not a matter of cowardice. It doesn’t mean the wearer is quaking in his or her boots in fear of becoming ill. It is an act of self awareness, taking responsibility for one’s own body and making sure that body doesn’t spread COVID-19 to others. Wearing a facial mask is not a political statement. It doesn’t signify that one is a liberal or a conservative, a Democrat or a Republican. It is an example of being a civic-minded person who wants to help this country recover from the coronavirus pandemic as quickly as possible by reducing the chances of spreading the disease.

We are gently suggesting that people follow the CDC’s recommendation, and that those who do not wish to wear masks do not mock or heckle those who do, and that those who do not wish to wear masks respect the concept of private property and private ownership, and comply with the wishes of shop owners who are requiring masks.