The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new COVID-19 guidelines on Saturday, Feb. 13, in which it introduced the recommendation of “double masking”—a strategy where an individual layers a reusable cloth mask on top of a disposable surgical mask. The idea of more masks, less contact and constantly having the pandemic in the back of your mind is continually reiterated across national media, organizations like the CDC and the current presidential platform. 

Now is not the time to lower our guard and pull back protections. Instead, we should double down, double mask and slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2. “We still have 100,000 cases a day. We still have somewhere between 1,500 and 3,500 deaths per day,” Director of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during an interview on CBS “Face the Nation.” “And yet we see some communities relaxing some of their mitigation strategies. We are nowhere out of the woods.” One day prior to the CDC’s announcement of its revised guidelines, Gov. Greg Gianforte rescinded the state-wide mask mandate put in place by former Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock. 

Gianforte’s recall of the mask mandate is imprudent and harmful to the health and wellbeing of Montanans. In a US Newsarticle titled, “Montana Governor Lifts Statewide Mask Mandate,” Iris Samuels, Associated Press/Report for America reporter wrote, “Montana’s statewide mask mandate that had been in place since July was lifted Friday [Feb. 12 ] by Gov. Greg Gianforte, but some cities and counties are keeping local mask requirements because they think the governor's move was premature.” 

As of last Wednesday, Feb. 17, Montana, Iowa, North Dakota and Mississippi are the only states that have repealed their previous general-public mask mandates. Mississippi’s mandate expired on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020 and on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021 Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) announced an update to the legislation. Reeves immediately instituted a partial mask order for counties with high rates of COVID-19 transmission. Following the removal of the mask requirement, the infection rate increased rapidly across the state. Currently, only seven of the 82 counties in Mississippi fall outside of the governor’s “partial mask order.”

The crisis in Mississippi is exactly what we should avoid in our great state of Montana. “If we relax these mitigation strategies with increasing transmissible variants out there, we could be in a much more difficult spot,” Walensky said. According to the World Population Meter, in the last week, Sunday, Feb. 14 through Saturday, Feb. 20, Montana averaged 192 new COVID-19 cases per day. As a state, we are nowhere near healthy enough to unmask.