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Doctor Tells Montanans to 'Cowboy Up, Mask Up'


This story was powered by America Amplified, a public radio initiative.

A physician based in Missoula, Mont., has a message for libertarian-minded skeptics of the pandemic – cowboy up and mask up.


In a recent opinion piece published in newspapers across the state, Marc Mentel, president of the Montana Medical Association, wrote that "real cowboys do what they have to do to get the job done, they don't whine, and they always help their neighbor…. The data is clear: masking, social distancing and washing hands will reduce the chances of spreading COVID."

A recent review of more than a hundred studies by researchers at Brigham Young University showed that masks are overwhelmingly effective in slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has claimed more than 150,000 lives in the U.S. since March. 

Mentel told the Mountain West News Bureau that he was inspired to write the commentary after reading about the Cowboy Code of Ethics, an unwritten set of rules that, according to folklore, guided conduct on the 19th century frontier. 

"It was the idea that we were all in this together and when you were out on the frontier as a pioneer or a cowboy, you always did whatever you needed to do to help one another," he said. "It was all about survival."

Many states in the Mountain West have enacted mask mandates, including Montana. However, a group of 38 sheriffs in the state signed an op-ed saying they wouldn't enforce the governor's order. On a recent Sunday, a diner in Hamilton, Mont., was full of customers and staff not wearing masks and not social distancing. 

Mentel says the Cowboy Code of Ethics contains wise words for fighting the pandemic, and that now isn't the time to argue that the mask mandate is an affront to individual liberty because by not wearing one you infringe on other people's rights to be healthy.

"You ride for the brand and our brand is the human race," he said. "We all need to do what we can to stamp this pandemic down and make sure we do the best we can for our neighbors."

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Nate Hegyi is a roving regional reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, based at Nevada Public Radio. You can reach him at natehegyi@protonmail.com.