There is an apparent air of irony floating in from Helena: “Big government bad, big government will save economy.”
But it’s all about personal responsibility, right?
The newly patched-up Senate Bill 65 — or the “COVID-19 Liability Bill” — that has made its way to Gov. Greg Gianforte’s desk would prohibit any forms of legal action against businesses revolving around the coronavirus. This bill is like a prequel: The real storyline is the imminent removal of the statewide mask mandate.
And just like many prequels, the bill isn’t necessarily horrible — it’s just not that great.
There have been a handful of lawsuits in Montana leveled against businesses throughout the pandemic; ranging from the foursome of restaurants in Kalispell, to a few against nursing homes in the state. The nursing home lawsuits, specifically against the Whitefish Care and Rehabilitation Center, are directly linked to the COVID-19 related deaths of residents from what the lawsuits claim to be caused by negligent care.
It is not up to this editorial to decide the legality of this suit, but SB 65 could potentially make this case — and cases like it — moot, leaving these families in pain and without answers.
But the stepping-stone aspect of this bill is undeniable. The statewide mask mandate enacted by former Gov. Steve Bullock could be gone. Soon, or at least according to Gianforte’s mask mandate rollback checklist. A bill like SB 65 protecting businesses from COVID-19 liability is a major box about to be checked off on that list.
In his State of the State address from Jan. 28, Gianforte remarked at how large of a step forward toward “personal responsibility” SB 65 is.
“I look forward to getting SB 65 to my desk so we can take that critical step toward getting Montana safely open for business, moving towards incentives and personal responsibility and away from impractical government mandates,” Gianforte said in the address.
So the hill to die on has been established: Masks vs. personal responsibility. Masks act like hand sanitizer for your face, personal responsibility is the tire fire that spreads COVID-19 with wanton, reckless abandon.
Mask mandates have worked. According to a study conducted by MIT in August: Had there been a nationwide mask mandate in April, deaths would have been 40% lower in June. In a report released by the CDC Feb. 5, using data gathered from March to Oct. 2020, hospitalization rates from COVID-19 decreased by over 5% when mask mandates were implemented.
But guess what, gang? There is now an even more contagious variant of COVID-19 from the U.K. that is tearing its way through the U.S. And it is most prevalent in Florida, a state with little to no restrictions in place regarding mask usage.
The suggested solution: Two masks. What now, Greg?
It is unfortunate how extremely politicized a simple precautionary step has become, but here we are. Coronavirus spreads primarily through droplets released through breathing, masks stop those droplets. Personal responsibility is taking out the trash, not putting another person’s life into the hands of people who can’t take out the trash, but will be damned if they have to wear a mask.
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