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

State Lawmaker Questions The Science Behind The Governor’s School Masking Rule

Close-up of Asian female teacher wearing a face mask in school building tutoring a primary student girl. Elementary pupil is writing and learning in classroom. Covid-19 school reopen concept
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Stock photo of a teacher wearing a mask in the classroom.

A Democratic state lawmaker Wednesday questioned the head of the state health department about whether medical experts were involved in making a controversial emergency rule issued last month regarding masking in schools.

Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services Director Adam Meier was questioned by a Democratic lawmaker from Bozeman about the origin of the emergency rule during a meeting of the Children, Families, Health and Human Services Committee.

The department's rule said school districts should get input from parents before implementing masking rules to slow the spread of COVID-19 in classrooms. It also made claims about the conclusions of scientific literature on masking for kids.

Here’s part of the exchange between Meier and Rep. Ed Stafman.

“So am I right that there are no scientists or doctors in the department who signed-off on the conclusions within that rule” Stafman asked.

Meier replied, “That’s not part of — there’s no scientist that signs-off on rules. And this is, again, not a clinical or scientific study. It’s a rule by which — provides a framework for those schools to then follow that.”

MTPR reached out to DPHHS to ask whether it had consulted with any experts inside or outside of the agency about the conclusions in the rule, but did not receive a response by deadline.

The Montana School Boards Association says the rule doesn’t do anything in practice, but public health experts in Montana, including the Montana Medical Association and Montana chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, took issue with claims in the rule that scientific evidence hasn’t proved masking to be effective.

The rule says “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.”

Montana’s medical and nursing community issued a joint statement last month saying the claims about the scientific literature undermine an effective, proven public health measure to help keep kids in school and emergency rooms open.

Aaron graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism in 2015 after interning at Minnesota Public Radio. He landed his first reporting gig in Wrangell, Alaska where he enjoyed the remote Alaskan lifestyle and eventually moved back to the road system as the KBBI News Director in Homer, Alaska. He joined the MTPR team in 2019. Aaron now reports on all things in northwest Montana and statewide health care.