With Montanans Nearly All COVID-Free, Why Are We Still Masked?
Here is our continuation of a Q&A with Gallatin County Health Officer Matt Kelley. Thanks again to Mr. Kelley for being open and honest in providing answers to the two questions we posed. If you missed the Q&A on Question #1, click here.
Since COVID cases have been falling since mid-November, are you going to recommend to the Health Board that Gallatin County follow the governor's mask policy? And if not, why?
The numbers have fallen from November, when the disease was spreading rapidly and unrelentingly, causing many hospitalizations and leading to higher mortality in Gallatin and Montana. As the governor has noted in his comments on masks, local boards of health have authority to implement rules in local areas and a statutory duty to protect the public health. All of the guidance we are seeing – most notably from from the CDC – says that use of masks in indoor public settings is an important factor in slowing down spread of the disease.
Using a mask is inexpensive, safe and helps allow us to keep businesses and schools open safely. This isn’t that much different from our drunk driving laws. While some would value the freedom to drive while intoxicated, the rest of us on the roads benefit from laws that prohibit that activity.
With masks, some would prefer to not wear masks, but doing so in public indoor setting protects all of us … especially people most at risk (seniors, people with underlying health conditions like diabetes. COPD, or high blood pressure). By slowing down spread, we are able to better protect people in nursing homes and other sensitive settings. Wearing a mask is a precaution that protects us all, and choosing not to do so increases risk for all. It’s a simple, inexpensive way to show consideration for those around you. I would also note that in public comment for some of our health rules, numerous business owners (notably in the bar and restaurant industry) specifically asked us to keep the mask rule because it helps them keep their staff and customers safe and keep their doors open.
A couple of thoughts. In reference to "numerous business owners" asking the health board to keep the mask rule, nothing is preventing local businesses from implementing their own policy regarding masks. Just like requiring someone to wear pants & a shirt, they could also require masks in their establishments. A mask mandate isn't needed for that. Individuals are also free to wear a mask if they desire, should our current mask mandate be rescinded.
As for Mr. Kelley's correlation of mask mandates to drunk driving laws: There is a direct association between someone driving intoxicated and the highway death they are involved with. To date, I have not seen any specific data from the CDC, or anywhere else, that shows a direct link between not wearing a mask and an elderly person dying of COVID in a nursing home. The same is true for closing down bars early. There is no specific data that ties bars remaining open past 10 p.m. to directly spreading and killing people via COVID. Yes, we know people have died with COVID, but it's nearly impossible to link them directly to someone frequenting a bar, restaurant, or supermarket sans mask. We also don't require a breathalyzer on every vehicle since we don't assume that every person is driving intoxicated.
If the goal of those in charge is to prevent every possible death, why are they not mandating us to drive 20 mph on the interstate? Or make sales of alcohol illegal? Both of those would practically stamp out all road-related deaths. I'm certainly not advocating that we enact either of those policies, as they are not reasonably prudent. It is also not reasonable to keep our economy and society shut down while making us breathe back in our own carbon dioxide when 99.80% of our state is COVID-Free. The percentage of Montanans who are COVID-free has actually risen since our article yesterday. That number has been trending upward for some time.
Again, if 99.80% of the population being COVID-free is not satisfactory enough to eliminate our current mask mandate, what number is? 99.85? 99.90? Maybe that is a question for next time.