City will still strongly encourage masks even if mandate is lifted

by CHRIS PETERSON
Editor | January 6, 2021 1:00 AM

While Gov. Greg Gianforte has indicated he would lift the statewide mask order, the city of Columbia Falls will still advocate mask use in its buildings.

The subject was brought up at Monday night’s council meeting. Councilman Darin Fisher said the city should continue to strongly advocate the use of masks in its buildings and when interacting with staff.

The rest of council agreed, as long as the city wasn’t mandating their use in other places, like businesses. Whitefish on Monday voted to require masks in public places and businesses if Gianforte lifts the mandate.

If Gianforte does lift the mask mandate, Montana would join Mississippi as the only other state in the country to lift it.

Controlling the virus is a serious issue for the city, city manager Susan Nicosia said. They’ve already had entire departments shut down because of quarantine requirements when staff are exposed to a person with a positive case.

Mayor Don Barnhart agreed that the city should adhere to a mask policy.

“I agree,” he said. “I’m going to continue to wear a mask.”

City leaders noted that people who interact with the governor’s office and their staff are required to wear masks.

Gianforte was sworn in on Monday. He didn’t immediately make a decision on the mask mandate, but is expected to do so in the coming days.

Montana has seen a sharp drop in novel coronavirus cases in the past few weeks, but a vaccine for the general public probably won’t be available until this summer.

In other news:

• The River’s Edge Park bathroom should be operational by week’s end. There was a problem with the system that communicates with the lift station and the bathroom. It was being fixed.

The health department reached out to the city wondering if it would have a large building that’s at least 40 by 80 feet wide that’s unoccupied so it could use it for vaccinations. The city doesn’t have such a structure, Nicosia noted.

The city adopted new federal standards for police training and conduct. The new standard bans chokeholds in all but the most serious cases. Police Chief Clint Peters said the city already has policy that doesn’t allow chokeholds.

“Nothing will change the way we operate,” Peters said. “Other than jumping through the (regulation) hoops, it’s a good thing.”

The city OK’d a letter of support for the Glacier Gateway Trail Group. The group is trying to secure a state grant that will help develop a trailhead and about one to three miles of new trails north of the city.