Although the Missoula City County Health Department did not have any direct contact with MCPS, Hellgate Elementary and Target Range School districts to provide counsel on the DPHHS emergency ruling on masks this week, Health Officer D’Shane Barnett spoke to KGVO News about the subject on Thursday.

“The Health Department actually hasn't had much input into that because the decision was actually made by the Board of Trustees and it's not a health department decision,” said Barnett. “So the Missoula Board of Health has put out the recommendation to all Missoulians that CDC guidance is the best course of action,” said Barnett. “That is also what we have relayed to the school districts and consistently, we've given that message to both the Board of Trustees and to the broader Missoula community.”

Barnett claimed he has found many studies that say masks are beneficial to children during the COVID 19 pandemic.

“I have not done a deep dive into the science,” he said. “What I have done though, is really cursory literature review and specific to COVID-19. What I've been able to find is there are at least 70 studies that do show some benefit to mask wearing. Only two of those studies included school aged children. And so I think that that is absolutely an area in which more attention and study absolutely could be done. But in general, there is absolutely a lot of science that shows that there is some effectiveness to mask wearing.”

Barnett then addressed the progress of COVID 19 vaccinations in Missoula.

“What we've seen right now is that vaccine rates are going up at about a half a percent each week,” he said “Now, we are still 20% from our goal for herd immunity. That would take 40 weeks before we hit that and that's not enough, so we are definitely not vaccinating as many people as we would like. But what we have seen is an increase in vaccine rates since the Delta variant.”

Barnett then provided an update on the number of new cases.

“We've been adding right around between 70 and 90 cases a day,” he said. “We haven't hit 90 yet, but we've had a couple of days that were close. I think today it was 87, and I think it was either yesterday or the day before it was 89. So we've been in the upper 70s to mid 80s everyday this week. Right now we have 29 individuals hospitalized due to COVID, and of those 19 are Missoula county residents, and then the others are individuals from other counties but who are here in our hospitals fighting COVID.”

Barnett took over in June after Ellen Leahy retired after over 30 years of service to the county.


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