GFPS board meets Aug. 19, officials now recommending to start school with masks

The Great Falls Public Schools board is holding a special meeting Aug. 19 at 5:30 p.m. at the district office.

The agenda includes discussion and a vote on several policies for school year that begins Aug. 25, including one regarding masks.

The meeting is open to the public but the seating capacity is limited to 70 people and the district will be using 3-foot physical distancing and is strongly encouraging attendees to wear masks to the current high transmission rate of COVID-19 in the county.

Cascade County’s COVID cases increasing

Request to speak cards will be available at the meeting.

The meeting will also be livestreamed on the GFPS Facebook page. Facebook comments will not be read at the meeting, but written comments may be submitted in advance by emailing by noon Aug. 19 and include first and last name, address, group or individuals being represented if any and the written comment to be shared with the board.

Copies of the comments received by the deadline will be given to all Board members.

State reports most COVID-19 hospitalizations are unvaccinated patients

If you have previously e-mailed the superintendent or board, your comments will be forwarded to the board members, so resubmitting your comments is not necessary, according to GFPS.

Superintendent Tom Moore told The Electric that the GFPS cabinet met Aug. 17 and there have been modifications to their proposal to the board.

Superintendent recommends returning to school with mask recommendation, no mandate; GFPS board to vote later

Based on conversations with district officials, health professionals, lawyers, the Montana School Board Association and community feedback, Moore said they’re recommending a policy to the board that will authorize the superintendent to implement and adjust health and safety protocols throughout the year based on the community COVID transmission rate.

In a nutshell, he’ll be recommending that GFPS start the school year with a mask requirement due to the current high rate of community transmission.

During last week’s school board meeting, Moore recommended that the district open school with a strong recommendation for masks, but no requirement. During that meeting, parents opposed to masks spoke for about 1.5 hours. In the meantime, district officials have been inundated with comments from parents, pediatricians and more on both sides of the issue.

COVID cases continuing to rise in Cascade County

The proposed policy will give Moore the ability to relax or rescind a mask requirement if and when the community transmission rate drops or implement it when necessary. The proposed policy will also give him the ability to implement health and safety protocols such as masks at specific schools within the district if there are outbreaks in certain locations.

The district is using the definitions of community transmission rates set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control that use the positivity rate and cases per 100,000 as metrics.

Cascade county adds 114 COVID cases over last week; variants increasing

The levels included in the proposed policy are:

“We’re in a state of outbreak that would warrant more stringent health and safety protocols in our public schools,” Moore said.

COVID-19 cases spike this week to 100 active cases

Over the weekend, Cascade County added 103 cases and another 94 on Tuesday. The current total in the county is 10,357 with 559 active cases, though the number of active cases may not be fully accurate as the Cascade County City-County Health Department has said it’s prioritizing new case investigation over closing out recovered cases.

On July 23, there were 100 active cases in the county.

The district is not offering a remote learning option this year. The homebound option continues to exist for students with medical conditions that prevent them from attending school.

Moore told The Electric that students who are quarantined or isolated would operate as if they were out sick with takehome packets and support from teachers. If the absence became extended, Moore said those students could be transitioned to the homebound option.

As of Aug. 16, there had been 62,050 vaccine doses administered and 30,925 people, or 45 percent of the eligible population, were fully immunized, meaning two weeks have elapsed since their final dose of the vaccine, according to state data.

According to state data, as of July 30, which was the most recent update, 48 percent of eligible residents in Cascade County had at least one dose of the vaccine. Among those 12-17 years old, 24 percent had at least one dose.

The last reported positivity rate for Cascade County was 13 percent, calculated from July 28-Aug. 10, according to CCHD.

“Once the positivity rate exceeds 10 percent, nursing homes that receive funding from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are required to test all staff and residents twice per week,” according to CCHD.

The average case rate over the past seven days (Aug. 11-17) was 56 per 100k.

Of the 94 cases reported by the state today, 23 of those were people under the age of 20, according to CCHD.

As of Aug. 11, the case rate in Cascade County was 39.86 per 100,000.

On Aug. 4, the rate was 20.7 per 100,000.

Benefis asking community to vaccinate, wear masks as hospitalization numbers rise

The peak of local cases was November 2020 and the case rate was 83 per 100,000.

On July 14, the case rate was 7 per 100,000.

Last week, Missoula County Public Schools voted to adopt a mask mandate for the first six weeks of the school year and then will revisit the issue.

Helena Public Schools also adopted a mask policy for the upcoming school year for Pre-K through eighth grade.

Billings Public Schools amended their policy to give the superintendent discretion on whether masks are required.

Bozeman’s superintendent is making a similar recommendation to Moore’s and that district will finalize the decision during it’s Aug. 23 meeting.

As of Aug. 16, according to state data, Benefis Health System had 25 COVID and 209 non-COVID patients, leaving six beds available and is now considered at capacity.

Two COVID and 17 non-COVID patients are in the ICU, leaving two beds available, according to the state data.

Great Falls Clinic has three COVID and 18 non-COVID patients, leaving 15 beds available.