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Business owners react to change in Missoula mask mandate

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Posted at 11:39 AM, May 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-11 13:39:53-04

MISSOULA — Missoula health officials announced Monday the county-mask order is being lifted as Missoula reaches its vaccination and case count goal.

This comes after Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a bill that limits a local government's authority to enforce health rules.

The governor signed House Bill 257 -- which pertains to local board of health and health officers actions involving a private business -- last Friday.

Essentially, the new law prevents city or county-wide orders that apply to businesses and potentially restricts their customers, such as a mask mandate and its enforcement.

Gov. Gianforte's signing of the measure occurred around the time Missoula County reached the vaccination goal needed to rescind the county mask mandate.

The county health department will now move from a mask requirement to a mask recommendation -- meaning it’s up to the individual business to decide how they approach mitigation efforts -- or if they use them at all.

MTN News talked with two local business owners on Monday, both of whom will be glad to see the mandate lifted.

Whether you’re in the business of hospitality, health and fitness, retail or personal care, patrons come in many different forms - some double masking and some not wanting to wear a mask at all.

"We probably have a 50/50 split of people wanting to wear masks and not wanting to wear masks," owner of VRTX Fitness Rene Nazelrod told MTN News.

"Every person who walks through the door might have a different idea," echoed Red's Bar owner Mike Helean.

For any and every business owner in the last year -- enforcing the mask mandate on behalf of the Missoula City-County Health Department took more than just taping a sign on the door.

"We put up signage, we talked to people, we had our staff and employees go through the gym to make sure people were adhering to the mask mandate, and that was something that took a lot of staff," said Nazelrod.

After nearly a year of adhering to the mandate, the rules are changing.

It will now be up to business owners like Nazelrod and Helean to determine whether masks are required inside their respective establishments.

Both business owners told MTN News they plan to lift the mandate for their patrons and staff.

Since purchasing VRTX Fitness in the fall of 2020, Nazelrod has spent the entirety of her ownership under the mask mandate. Taking off the mask will mean finally seeing her gym goers' faces.

"It does allow us to smile, it allows us that connection that we’ve all been missing, and I think that’ll be a good thing for Missoula," she said.

Helean told MTN News that his customers and staff are in the same boat -- eager to take off the masks. He’s confident the change will be good for business.

"Employees will like it, customers will like it, and if you're uncomfortable coming into a place that isn't wearing masks, then I guess that's tough," said Helean. "People don't have to come in if they don't want to, but I think a good majority of the people that walked through my doors over the last year will be happy they don’t have to deal with it anymore."

Some entities, like Mountain Line and the Missoula International Airport are still subject to federal mask requirements, and Missoula County Public Schools will hold onto their mask requirement for the remainder of the school year.

To mask or not to mask -- these two business owners simply ask for one thing.

"Respect people that want to wear a mask or that don't," said Nazelrod.

"At this point, it’s a personal choice," said Helean.