HELENA — The Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services (DPHHS) on Tuesday issued an emergency rule to, in the words of Governor Greg Gianforte, "promote the role of parents as the ultimate decision makers on matters pertaining to the health of their children, including on the issue of wearing masks in schools."
Gianforte said in a news release: “Montana students deserve to be back in their classroom in as normal and safe an environment as possible. Montana parents deserve to know their voices are heard in schools when health-related mandates for their children are being considered. They also deserve to know that schools are reviewing reliable data and scientific research about the impacts of mask mandates on students.”
The emergency rule, issued by DPHHS, reads in part,
In order to provide for the health, well-being, rights, and educational needs of students, schools and school districts should consider, and be able to demonstrate consideration of, parental concerns when adopting a mask mandate, and should provide students and/or their parents or guardians, on their behalf, with the ability to opt-out of health-related mandates, to include wearing a mask or face covering, for reasons including:
(a) physical health;
(b) mental health;
(c) emotional health;
(d) psychosocial health;
(e) developmental needs; or
(f) religious belief, moral conviction, or other fundamental right the impairment of which could negatively impact the physical, mental, emotional, or psychosocial health of students.
At this time it is not clear the impact the order will have on school districts due to the "should" language of the rule. We are trying to get legal interpretation of the rule and will post an once we know more.
Lance Melton, director of the Montana School Boards Association, said school boards already must consider many of the exceptions outlined in the rule, and are working to find the best way to keep students safe and address parental concerns about mask mandates.
Amanda Curtis, president of the Montana Federation of Public Employees (MFPE), said the rule does not really change what schools already are doing regarding mask mandates.
If a staffer or student does not wish to wear a mask, school districts are weighing their concerns and giving them options, such as remote learning, she said.
“The governor would do well just to continue to support local control instead of providing disinformation, grandstanding and stirring a political pot that’s already making everyone’s lives miserable,” Curtis said.
The federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) currently recommends universal indoor masking by all students (age 2 and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status due to the high level of spread of the delta variant across the country. The CDC’s reasoning is due to the congregate setting schools provide, it is easier for the virus to spread ultimately putting more homes at risk for direct exposure.
The DPHHS rule cites scientific literature that shows side effects and possible dangers from prolonged mask wearing:
The scientific literature is not conclusive on the extent of the impact of masking on reducing the spread of viral infections. The department understands that randomized control trials have not clearly demonstrated mask efficacy against respiratory viruses, and observational studies are inconclusive on whether mask use predicts lower infection rates, especially with respect to children. The department understands, however, that there is a body of literature, scientific as well as survey/anecdotal, on the negative health consequences that some individuals, especially some children, experience as a result of prolonged mask wearing.
DPHHS director Adam Meier said, “A number of scientific studies indicate that universal mask use among children can adversely affect their health and development, particularly among children with learning or developmental disabilities. DPHHS respects the authority of parents to make health-related decisions in the best interest of their children, including whether wearing a mask in school is appropriate. DPHHS would encourage schools to take into account all of these factors and implement any mitigation strategies in the least restrictive means as possible to maximize learning outcomes for Montana children.”
The emergency rule is in effect for 120 days, unless it is extended beyond that time. Click here to read the full text of the DPHHS document (PDF).
There were 890 new COVID-19 cases reported within the last 24 hours in Montana, with 5,057 total active cases in the state as of Tuesday, August 31. The last time the state had more than 5,000 active cases was January 9, according to MTN data.
Montana averaged 2,227 active cases a day in August, which is more than five times the July average of 384 active cases a day.
Information from the Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services (DPHHS) at this point does not include data on whether new cases occurred among vaccinated or unvaccinated people.
There were 13 new deaths reported on Tuesday; the total number of Montanans who have died due to COVID is now 1,800, according to DPHHS. Since August 2, 2021, 92 people have died due to COVID in the state, compared to 38 in July.
The number of people currently hospitalized in Montana due to COVID is 251, an increase of 28 from Monday . The cumulative number of hospitalizations in Montana due to the virus is 6,358. To date, roughly 1 in 20 (5.0%) reported COVID cases in the state have resulted in a hospitalization.
COUNTIES WITH THE MOST ACTIVE CASES
- Yellowstone County: 193 new, 892 active
- Flathead County: 96 new, 837 active
- Cascade County: 112 new, 805 active
- Missoula County: 71 new, 671 active
- Lewis & Clark County: 32 new, 271 active
- Gallatin County: 95 new, 223 active
- Ravalli County: 20 new, 149 active
- Silver Bow County: 27 new, 128 active
- Lake County: 22 new, 115 active
- Lincoln County: 36 new, 113 active
- Hill County: 34 new, 104 active
About 50% of eligible residents are now vaccinated, with 463,273 Montanans now considered fully vaccinated. If you want to get vaccinated, contact your county health department, or click here.
There have been 127,227 cumulative cases of COVID in Montana. The cumulative number of recoveries is now 120,370. There were 6,746 new COVID tests administered since the last DPHHS report.
The information above is from the DPHHS website and is current as of Tuesday, August 31, 2021. The state site also has county-specific data on the number of new cases, cumulative cases, vaccination rates, and more.