A letter from Mayor John Engen and the Board of Missoula County Commissioners to County Health Officer Ellen Leahy on Wednesday expressed support for Leahy and the County Health Board to make the wearing of a mask or cloth face covering mandatory for both employees and patrons.

Commission Chair Josh Slotnick laid out the proposed rule.

“Any business that has a license with the city or gets inspected by the health department would require their employees to wear a mask and would ask that patrons of these businesses also wear a mask,” said Slotnick. “If they don’t bring one, then one would be provided for them. Enforcement would be done through the health department and not through law enforcement.”

Slotnick said that the decision which would fall to Leahy and the Health Board has the full support of city and county elected leaders.

“This was an act of us showing support,” he said. “Because, for a lot of people this would be very controversial, and a powerful new way to live and a new order to make, so we wanted her to know that she has our full support. It’s a lot for one person to be out there on their own changing the way people live like this, so it was important that she knows that she has our support and that’s the support of the entire BCC (Board of County Commissioners) where we are unanimous in this, as is the mayor.”

Slotnick said he understands that there will be pushback by many in the community on this proposal to require everyone to be masked in every store, every restaurant and every business that is licensed by the city or inspected by the health department.

“Certainly, there are going to be some people out there that say ‘no one’s going to tell me what to do’, but most people, if this is the law, they’re going to do it. If that means this increases compliance by 30 percent, well, imagine 30 percent more people not getting sick, or 30 percent more families not losing a loved one, then I feel we’ve just gained a whole bunch of ground.”

Slotnick did say that if this proposal does not show a significant decrease in the number of new COVID cases, then ‘we’ve got to move on to something else’.

Health Officer Ellen Leahy said the proposal will be taken up soon by the Missoula County Health Board and then a public announcement will be made.