Missoula has had a front row seat while two powerful agencies, the Montana Department of Health and Human Services, along with the governor’s office and the Missoula City-County Health Department present vastly different arguments about children wearing masks in school.

The obvious question is ‘Which agency should we believe?’

KGVO presented that question to Missoula Health Officer D’Shane Barnett on Monday.

“I would never tell somebody what to believe,” said Barnett. “What I would do is provide them with the best information possible. The Montana Nurses Association, what they did and what we've done at the Missoula City County Health Department is go to the best science available when it comes to masking and when it comes to vaccines. People can choose to believe that or not, but what we're going to put out there is the absolute best evidence available, and then let people make up their minds from there.”

Barnett said the DPHHS and governor office’s rule is not based on the ‘best possible evidence’.

“What was really unfortunate was that the DPHHS in their rule that they put out, which really isn't a rule, but was more of a recommendation, they did not put out the best evidence available,” he said. “The Montana Nurses Association, if you go to our website, Missoula info.com, you can see that we put out an assessment of the science on masking where I went through the scientific database and presented all of the best evidence that I could find.”

Barnett said there are studies, and then again there are studies.

“I can do a study and I can find enough people who will say that John Engen is the best Mayor we've ever had,” he said. “Somebody else can do a study and find enough people to say John Engen is the worst Mayor we've ever had. Just because a study says something does not mean that that one study is absolutely the ‘be all, end all’. That's why in science we look at what's called the preponderance of evidence.”

Barnett again said the studies that the health department has presented carry more weight than others.

“Yes, there absolutely are some studies that have been able to show some kind of detriment (with masks), however, they are the minority,” he said. “The majority of studies looking at masking in particular show that they are very safe and very effective.”

Barnett said he is confident enough in the safety and efficacy of masks that he offered a story about his own family.

“I have a 10 year old, and we are now starting our third week of school,” he said. “I send him to school in a mask and his biggest complaint is that every once in a while there's a kid that has a cooler mask than he does. I would not ask of anybody else anything that I would not do myself. I wear my mask. I ask my 10 year old to wear a mask because I know it's safe, because I know it helps reduce the spread of this virus and keep our community safe.”

The MCPS has required masks for all students since the beginning of the school year and will reevaluate the policy in October.

 

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