Montana is in grave danger of missing a rare opportunity to demonstrate to the rest of the country how to reopen the economy and prevent a resurgence of the COVID virus.
We were blessed early in the pandemic with strong leadership from public officials whose decisive actions minimized Montana’s cases of the virus. We are also in the enviable position of being one of very few states with enough public health support to adequately track cases and quarantine close contacts, critical measures in limiting spread of the virus.
With reopening, however, many Montanans are behaving as if we have no COVID in our beloved state. Lack of masking and disregard for social distancing are rampant. This lackadaisical behavior puts everyone at risk needlessly.
There is a myth circulating that the increase in cases is due to the seasonal influx of tourists. That is a false assumption. In fact tourism accounts for very few of the current cases in Montana. Most are from community spread, or Montanans traveling out of state and returning infected. Montanans are infecting Montanans. Don’t blame the tourists; we are at fault.
Because Montanans have not embraced safe social distancing, cases are surging. As a result, masks should be mandated in public places. The single most impactful measure to reduce viral spreading is masking. We are familiar with other regulations such as not driving while intoxicated or impaired, and completing a hunter safety course. These regulations protect us and our loved ones from ourselves. Masking is no different.
Fewer cases means fewer of us will go through the agonizing experience of watching someone we care about become critically ill and, in some cases, die. Fewer cases means fewer of us will have the horrible experience of unwittingly infecting a person close to us. Montana, let’s show the rest of the country how it can be done. Wash your hands! Wear your mask! Wear it while working, shopping, socializing, and always when indoors in public places. Yes, that means the bar and the gym. Together we can save lives and protect our economy. We love our state. Let’s love each other as well.
Dr. Suzanne Daniell Hildner
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