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Missoula school board votes to extend mask mandate

Jess Sheldahl
Yellowstone Public Radio/File photo
Sewn masks made for donations throughout Gallatin County, March 2020.

Missoula’s school board of trustees on Tuesday voted to maintain public school mask mandates, at least for now.

The board is also thinking about the metrics that will be used to eventually lift the rule.

Missoula County Public School Superintendent Rob Watson recommended the board maintain the district’s existing mandatory face covering guidelines.

With COVID-19 caseloads rising in schools and throughout Missoula County, Watson said now is not the time to relax the requirement.

“But, I think one of the big unknown questions — and it’s a legitimate question — is how long do we continue this?" he said. "Where is the endpoint? Do we see a light at the end of the tunnel?”

The district’s COVID-19 task force is developing a set of parameters to help the board determine when to lift the mask mandate. Proposals include 30 or fewer new COVID cases per week for three consecutive weeks and 175 or fewer close contact cases, also for three consecutive weeks.

Missoula school trustees voted 8- 2 to extend the district’s mask mandate and to give the COVID task force another month to finalize those parameters.

Missoula County Public School officials say the highly contagious delta variant has led to a 70% spike in positive cases in schools this year when compared to last fall’s COVID surge.

Copyright 2021 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Edward O'Brien is Montana Public Radio's Associate News Director.