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The latest news about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 in Montana.

Missoula County Public School Board Approves Mask Mandate

Elementary schoolchildren wearing a protective face masks  in the classroom. Education during epidemic.
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Elementary schoolchildren wearing a protective face masks in the classroom.

The Missoula County Public Schools Board of Trustees in a 6 to 3 vote Tuesday issued a mask mandate for all students, staff and guests inside of school buildings this fall.

The mask mandate will be in effect for the first six weeks of school. The board will revisit it after the district collects data on case numbers in schools during that time.

The board’s consideration of a mask mandate drew hundreds of written and oral public comments both for and against the rule. Missoula County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Watson said one of the biggest reasons for the mandate is federal and local public health guidance, which reduces the threshold for who is considered a close contact when a positive case is found in schools with universal masking.

“If they are consistently using their masks, then we can lower the quarantine distance from six feet to three feet, which is big.”

Watson also told trustees the mandate is needed because children under 12 can’t be vaccinated. Statewide, about 28 percent of children 12 to 17 were fully vaccinated at the end of last month. Vaccination rates for kids in Missoula County are higher than the state average.

Just ahead of the quickly approaching school year, COVID-19 cases have spiked across the state as the Delta variant increasingly accounts for nearly all positive tests analyzed in the state.

According to an analysis by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association, children under 18 accounted for 15 percent of all COVID cases reported last week in the U.S.