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Lake County Sheriff’s Office: don’t call 911 over mask-wearing compliance

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LAKE COUNTY – After Governor Steve Bullock issued a mask directive in Montana, people started calling 911 to report noncompliance in the county. 

“Our 911 Dispatch Center has been overloaded with calls from the public regarding citizens and businesses that they feel are not complying with Governor Bullock’s face covering mandate,” Lake County Sheriff’s Office officials stated on a Facebook post last week. The post continues: “This is not deemed an emergency and it is inappropriate to call either the emergency or non-emergency number for those that are non-compliant in the opinion of the citizen.” 

The Sheriff’s Office urged people to be responsible and practice safety precautions during the COVID-19 outbreak. On Friday, they asked people not to call the 911 Dispatch Center to report that people are not wearing masks. Sheriff Don Bell asked people to call Lake County Public Health to report violations to the mask directive.

Sheriffs across Montana experienced similar situations and many of them signed a document explaining the issue on July 17. The document states that wearing a mask is a public health directive and not a law. The document explains that sheriffs take an oath to support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Montana. 

“We will uphold our oath, protect public safety and respond to our shared constituency through open communication and education as we continue to face the public health risks of COVID-19,” the document states. “As leaders in your community and the elected officials who represent you and your constitutional rights, we want to ensure we are all doing our part to protect the vulnerable citizens in our state while also keeping Montana open and our private sector business partners thriving.”

It continues: “In order to keep moving forward, we all have to do our part. Personal responsibility is the only way we can keep our vulnerable citizens safe and our economy open. We will continue to focus our efforts on education and encourage citizens to make public health and safety related decisions based on your own personal circumstances and exposure to and interactions with vulnerable populations. Washing your hands, social distancing, avoiding large gatherings and wearing masks are all ways to take personal responsibility.”

“The statewide face covering order is a public health directive. The directive is not a mandate for law enforcement to issue citations and arrest violators. As your locally elected sheriffs, we will educate the public about the governor’s mask directive. We urge you to take personal responsibility and be respectful of all Montana citizens.”

On July 15, Bullock issued a directive for all people in Montana age five and older to wear a mask if their county has more than four active cases. The directive is in effort to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus as cases began to increase after the Fourth of July weekend. In Montana, the number of cases as of July 20 was at 2,621. Lake County increased the number of cases from 21 on July 6 to 53 on July 13 and 105 on July 20.  

“Many Montanans answered the call to mask up, a call that came from our hospitals, nurses, and doctors, our vibrant small business community, and our high-risk neighbors,” Bullock said. “I thank all of those who take seriously their personal responsibility and their role in stopping COVID-19.”

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