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Health Officials: Masked Gallatin County Schools Have Had Fewer COVID-19 Cases This Year

5.8 covid cases per 1,000 students in Gallatin County schools that require masks versus 17.9 per 1,000 in schools that don't.
Gallatin City-County Health Department
Gallatin City-County Health Department
A data chart shows an average of 5.8 COVID-19 cases per 1,000 students in Gallatin County schools that require masks this year versus 17.9 per 1,000 students in schools that don't.

About a month into the school year, Gallatin County health officials say schools that started the school year with a mask requirement have had fewer COVID-19 cases among students.

Since the school year began, the Gallatin City-County Health Department has been tracking the number of COVID-19 cases in K-12 schools in the county.

What health officials found is that schools in Gallatin County that started the school year without a mask requirement had about three times more COVID-19 cases per 1,000 students than schools that started the year with a mask requirement.

“Where there is a mask requirement we are seeing there are fewer cases,” says Lori Christenson, Gallatin City-County health officer.

Christenson presented these findings at a press conference on Friday. She says the data includes cumulative COVID-19 cases for students, excluding school staff.

Last week the CDC released two studies that mirror what health officials in Gallatin County reported. Oneconducted in Arizona found that schools that started the year without a mandate were 3.5 times more likely to have COVID-19 outbreaks than schools that started with one.

Mask mandates in schools have been contentious this school year. Gov. Greg Gianforte issued an emergency rulethat encouraged parental input on school mask policies and also questioned mask efficacy. Claims made in the emergency rule were later challenged by members of the Montana Nurses Association and other health professionals.

In Gallatin County, Christenson says health officials plan to continue tracking the relationship between COVID-19 cases and mask policies in K-12 schools.

Olivia Weitz covers Bozeman and surrounding communities in Southwest Montana for Yellowstone Public Radio. She has reported for Northwest News Network and Boise State Public Radio and previously worked at a daily print newspaper. She is a graduate of the University of Puget Sound and the Transom Story Workshop.