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CDC Advising Those Vaccinated and Unvaccinated To Wear Masks in Indoor Public Spaces

Sewn masks made for donations throughout Gallatin County, March 2020.
Jess Sheldahl
Yellowstone Public Radio

As case totals rise around the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Tuesday that vaccinated and unvaccinated people alike wear face masks in public, indoor spaces in regions where the coronavirus is surging. The guidance is receiving mixed response in Montana.

In a statement responding to the change, Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte’s office said “While the CDC has repeatedly changed its mask recommendations over the last 16 months, the governor is committed to keeping our state open, and he encourages Montanans to talk with their doctor about getting a safe, effective vaccine.”

Meanwhile, Missoula County is urging residents to follow the recommendations. Cindy Farr with the city-county health department says case totals and hospitalizations have hit a level not seen there since spring.

“We do want to align with the CDC guidance and recommendations, the strong recommendation of wearing masks whenever you’re going to be out in public and especially when social distancing cannot be maintained,” Farr says.

Cascade County is also recommending residents follow the CDC guidance on mask wearing.

In contrast, Yellowstone County officials are holding steady with an existing recommendation for unvaccinated people to wear masks indoors.

Barbara Schneeman with RiverStone Health says Yellowstone County doesn’t fit the definition of a surging community and thus doesn’t fall under the CDC’s new guidance.

“Covid case numbers have ticked up over the last few days, but they aren’t anywhere near where they were earlier this year,” Schneeman says.

Lewis and Clark County is also holding off on recommending that vaccinated people mask up, although officials could change course if numbers spike.

The Montana Legislature passed laws this year limiting the power of county health officials, particularly when it comes to enacting restrictions that impact businesses. Lewis and Clark County Health Officer Drenda Niemann says the county likely couldn’t institute a mask mandate like it did last year.

“At this time it would probably be more of a recommendation than a requirement,” Niemann says.

Flathead and Gallatin counties are reviewing the CDC guidance and haven’t issued new recommendations.

Kevin Trevellyan is Yellowstone Public Radio's Report for America statehouse reporter.