The Missoula City-County Health Department issued a press release on Monday stating that widespread voluntary mask use is now strongly encouraged as Missoula County remains in the CDC high-risk COVID category.

KGVO reached out to Missoula’s Health Director Dr. D’Shane Barnett who provided details of the new recommendation.

“Here in Missoula County, we have gone back into the high-risk community level of spread,” said Dr. Barnett. “What that means is that the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recommendations change based on whether the community is at high risk, medium risk, or low risk, and so with high risk, one of the main recommendations is that people do wear masks whenever they're indoors in public, regardless of vaccination status.”

For those who have disposed of their masks thinking the pandemic is over, Barnett brought home the unwelcome news.

“We just have to get back in the habit of having a mask with us in our car and in our bags,” he said. “When we're going into the grocery stores and we're going into restaurants, we never know who may or may not have COVID. We never know when it might get transmitted to us. We could still feel okay, but maybe we have just a bit of a cough so wearing a mask even if you're just in the grocery store, walking through public spaces, it is really helpful in slowing the spread.”

Dr. Barnett provided a refresher on which masks are the most effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19.

“Because we are in a really high level of community spread, we would recommend that everybody wear high-quality masks,” he said. “That's an N 95 or a KN 95. Those individuals who are immunocompromised or at high risk should be wearing those really high-quality well-fitting masks. However, if you're having trouble locating those masks, you should be able to either find where to purchase them on Missoula info.com or be able to give us a call here at the health department (406-258-INFO) and we will help you locate where those are in Missoula.”

Once again, Dr. Barnett emphasized the importance of early treatment so that the hospitals in western Montana don’t become overwhelmed.

“In general, what I would say is that anyone who has symptoms of COVID or comes into contact with a known positive COVID case, should test immediately and test frequently, because the sooner you test and you're able to discover if you’re positive, the sooner you can get on the therapeutics that have a better chance of being effective at keeping you out of the hospital,” he said. And that's really what we're focusing on right now is keeping people out of the hospital.”

Dr. Barnett also recommended that Missoula County residents of all ages stay up to date on their COVID vaccinations and boosters.

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