Community leaders across Montana are echoing Gov. Steve Bullock's request for residents to wear facial coverings when out in public.
In Billings, Chamber of Commerce President John Brewer joined forces with Big Sky Economic Development Director Steve Arveschoug to issue a statement to encourage residents to wear masks, not just for their health, but for the health of the local economy.
"Our goal throughout this whole pandemic has been to get the economy back to 100 percent, and we don't want to see any slide backwards," said Brewer. "We encourage our community, our businesses, and employees to stay healthy and to keep others safe by doing a simple task of wearing a mask when out in public."
Brewer pointed to the states of Texas, Florida, Arizona and California, where rising COVID-19 numbers have forced a gradual shut down again.
"We control a lot of this right now, in how we behave and what we choose to do," said Brewer. "We can see what's happening in other states and we can control to some degree, our future."
Big Sky Economic Development Director Steve Arveschoug complimented local business leaders for adapting to the new COVID restrictions. Now, he said, it's the public's turn to rally to help those businesses keep their doors open.
"Going backwards, closing down again would be absolutely devastating to the Montana economy and our community," said Arveschoug. "We want to be a participant in a solution that helps our businesses stay open."
In a statement Thursday, the county's Economic Response and Recovery Team implored everyone to take additional precautions to fight the rise in COVID-19 cases.
"Those additional precautions include wearing masks, especially where social distancing cannot be guaranteed. While we know that masks can be uncomfortable and sometimes unpopular, mask wearing is one piece of the COVID-fighting puzzle that our community can embrace to support our continued economic recovery."
Brewer also pointed to a recent Billings Chamber survey, where 47 percent of consumers feel 'more safe or 'slightly more safe' in a store where employees are wearing masks. That number jumps up to 52 percent if the business is a restaurant.
"It's not only the healthy thing to do in protecting our community and our workers, it's also a competitive edge," said Brewer. "As a business, if I know that a consumer is more likely to come to my business and come back to my business if I'm taking care of my safety and theirs, I'm going to use that as a competitive advantage and make sure we're masked up."
For businesses that face real costs of adapting to COVID-19 protocols, Arveschoug pointed to a state grant program that reimburses business owners for such things as masks and other necessary supplies.
The Adaptation Grants are part of the State Coronavirus Relief fund. More information is available at https://yceconomicrecovery.org/