by Brian D’Ambrosio
Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte of Montana delivered mask fanatics a hefty, but essential, blow last week when he signed House Bill 257 into law, stripping the few remaining left-leaning health departments in the state of their ability to use their clout and control to dominate the population through unquestioned mask enforcement. The bill declares that counties can no longer require businesses to enforce health mandates, such as mask-wearing or capacity limits and restrictions, or pursue other whimsical edicts or decrees, such as cancel farmer’s markets, prohibit school parades, ban families of spectators at high-school athletic events.
While most Montana counties and towns (including Billings, the largest city in the state with a population of approximately 110,000) removed their mask mandates several weeks, if not months, ago, the university-dominated cities of Missoula and Bozeman, as well as the small, politically mixed capital city of Helena, seemed to be only tightening the screws on chronic mask-wearing. They repeatedly hid, changed, or lied about the markers and metrics for mask mandates’ removal, inexplicably shifting from one theoretical possibility or scenario to another. In the meantime, COVID-19 vaccinations have increased to the point where testing sites and vaccination camps are virtually empty, hospitalizations have plummeted to nonexistent, and deaths from the virus have fallen to the level somewhere between venomous snake bites and automotive fatalities. Yet paradoxically, the healthier and the more strengthened the state, and the more that it has recovered from the numbing side effects of the shameful lockdowns, the further away the remaining mask-obsessed health departments have pushed the date of mask abolition.
Without House Bill 257, the remaining communities would have stayed perennially under the twisted, tight-fisted influence of a handful of marginally knowledgeable, power-intoxicated, unelected bureaucrats who were playing the “follow the Fauci” model of single-minded governance. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. In fact, it would not be hard to imagine a scenario in which one government employee with a mask fetish would continue to bully the populace, terrorizing the summer camps into outside mask-wearing through the hottest days of August or perpetuating mask requirements for children straight into the fall of 2021 or beyond.
An example of why this law needed to be signed could be found in Helena, Montana, the state capital. For several months, the left-leaning head of the Lewis and Clark County Public Health Office, Drenda Niemann, who had no appreciable experience in the health or science fields until she stepped into the position before the pandemic, has schizophrenically changed the metrics for the removal of the mask mandate. She flip-flopped on the time frame and the decisive factors examined to determine the conclusion of their usage, unilaterally deciding that masks should remain mandatory in perpetuity. When questioned for a reason or measure for masks or an end time for removal, she provided no answer other than it would remain as long as she felt like it should. The requirement would end when the mask nanny felt like the 30,000 residents of the city were able to take care of their own bodily liberty and integrity.
In a series of March 2021 emails published in the Montana Daily Gazette, Niemann, who threatened to call the police on Hmong vegetable vendors for not sticking to “social distancing guidelines” while selling radishes outside in the summer 2020, was urged by local hospital employees to consider rescinding the mask mandate, noting that the county at that time had zero hospitalizations and that the mental health of the community was plummeting toward serious depression and chronic exhaustion. In April 2021, this author emailed Drenda about removing the mask mandate, and she responded that it would stay in place until the public was overwhelmingly vaccinated and until she had “a better understanding of the prospective variants” floating around the globe. When I responded in a subsequent email that most of the other 55 counties in Montana had already dropped their mask orders, and so had the largest city in the state along with all of the surrounding counties and cities near Helena, with absolutely no influence or bearing on the rate of COVID infections or hospitalizations, she ended the correspondence. (In fact, the converse is true; mask-obsessed Gallatin County has seen jumps and spikes in its COVID stats.)
Due to the needless, anti-community, anti-social edicts that have been inflicted on the community by a handful of leftist bureaucrats such as Niemann, Gianforte’s signature on House Bill 257 was not only needed but invited and welcomed. It has been praised by many residents of the few remaining counties in Montana who were suffering under draconian and erratic mask mandates (meanwhile, two minutes from my house, nearby, kids never stopped attending school five days a week, and for weeks servers and customers at restaurants have enjoyed their salutations and conversations, unmasked).
Promptly after Gianforte signed the bill, Niemann emailed local businesses on Friday morning informing them that the Lewis and Clark County Health Department would no longer be able to enforce mask mandates. The crux of her message was stern, with a dire, almost apocalyptic warning about the deadly repercussions of ending masks. With a glum assessment of the future, she angrily tore into the type of society where mask wearing is only optional and not mandated with force. She emphasized her opinion that masks should be worn both inside and outside and whenever people are in public. She also stressed her fear and concern over the permanent and ever-evolving nature of the virus. Instead of emphasizing personal accountability and the progress and freedom obtained through the vaccine, or even the startling links between COVID fatalities and age, physical neglect, and general unhealthiness, she took yet another opportunity to try to bulldoze the general population into submission through manipulative fear tactics.
“We are not out of danger yet. We still have cases happening every single day, and several of the COVID-19 variants are present in our community,” Niemann said.
On Saturday, May 8, the Helena Farmers’ Market kicked off on a cold and all-too-blustery morning. A few vendors and patrons opted to wear face coverings, while the overwhelming majority decided that they no longer wanted their expressions to be obscured by a dirty cloth, austere mask, or unsociable shield. People shook hands and greeted one another without any apprehension of fear. Families strolled and schmoozed. It all felt quite ordinary. Perhaps not surprisingly, Niemann had emailed the vendors just before the 9 a.m. opening time with the very same dour, wrathful message that she had sent out to businesses the day earlier. While drinking coffee and watching the crowd and standing chummily with one of the vendors whom I hadn’t seen in what had felt like many long years, I asked him if he had read the message from Niemann. “Nope. I deleted it,” he chuckled. “I stopped listening to that propaganda months ago.”
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Montana resident Brian D’Ambrosio is the author of more than 500 articles and 10 books.
Photo “Greg Gianforte” by Greg Gianforte.