Throughout the pandemic I’ve done my best to avoid any political discussion regarding our current situation. I’ve kept readers informed of our efforts to handle the unique challenges of conducting business in the Covid World and while I certainly have devoted some space on this blog to thoughts and reflections on life in the age of Coronavirus, I’ve been careful to steer clear of controversy.

I find it best to continue with that approach but due to the fact that we seem to be at a Covid Crossroads as evidenced by daily increases in case numbers coupled with press conferences from our Governor as well as from our County officials regarding these increases, I’m going to stray from that approach ever so slightly today just to keep everyone apprised of what is happening with Coronavirus in Montana and more specifically in Lewis and Clark County where we reside and where we conduct our business.

The bottom line is that whatever your opinion of the pandemic and the way in which it’s been handled, the fact is the numbers are increasing daily which is concerning to all of us. Mind you, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that we’re seeing an increase in the numbers as things open up and restrictions are lifted. The point was never to STOP the spread, it was to SLOW the spread in an effort to not overwhelm health care systems. That goal was reached during the stay at home order.

Increased testing obviously means increased cases and while those daily numbers can look scary I would contend that the relatively low (and steady) hospitalization and death rates should give us hope that this thing is not nearly as menacing and deadly as it was thought to be early on.

That being said Montana did see its largest single day increase in cases yesterday with 80 total cases (over 50 of which came from one place, a nursing home in Yellowstone County). So while I’m not necessarily losing sleep lying awake at night freaking out about Covid it’s obvious that the increased spread is very much a thing and this being the case I have decided to push hard for masking in our shop.

For the time being and until further notice, all employees are required to wear masks when anyone is in the shop. I’ve placed conspicuous signage up explaining that we are strongly encouraging the wearing of masks by our customers and that we do have disposable masks available for those who don’t have a mask. Mask wearing has increased ten-fold since we stepped up our masking program but we still see a fair number of customers entering who don’t seem to give NOT wearing a mask a second thought.

I’ve tried to maintain a level head throughout but I must say that this all seems to have many folks from all sides of the issue on edge. We’ve seen some push back from customers who are skeptical of the whole thing and are more than happy to share their opinions about the masks. We’ve also heard a number of complaints from masked customers who wonder why we are allowing people in our shop without masks.

I’ve been ok with letting folks make their own choice as to whether or not they choose to wear a mask in the shop but I will say that as the county has pushed closer to mandating masks and as some states have taken that step and mandated wearing a mask in all public places, I’ve been surprised to see people choosing to not wear them. Believe me, without getting political about it, I do not have a favorable opinion of any government agency issuing such a mandate. However, as a business owner and a consumer, I have no problem with a private business implementing such requirements.

It has been made clear to us in Montana that we need to get it together…OR ELSE,  and while such threats immediately raise hackles (mine included), we all share the hope that Covid numbers can be held in check and that we can continue to move towards Phase 3 of reopening. If wearing a mask and social distancing are going to get us there then I’m in. We’ve struggled through this season so far and will continue to do so but we’re thankful to be doing our thing right now, even if it is in somewhat of a limited capacity, and we’re going to do what we can to maintain and hopefully increase the opportunities afforded us.

Once again, just to be clear, having the health department mandate mask usage for all and urging our customers to wear masks in the shop are two completely different animals and we hope you agree with our assessment and appreciate the distinction.

I’ll stop just short once again of requiring the masks because I don’t really want to get into policy enforcement issues but we would humbly ask that you do your part to help us keep our business open by observing social distancing, wearing a mask in the shop, using hand sanitizer when you come in and adhering to our limited customer capacity request.

We’ll continue to clean and disinfect often and will continue to implement measures to keep all of our employees and customers safe and all we ask of you is that you respect our efforts to do so.