GFPS board votes to give superintendent ability to implement mask rules depending on community COVID spread

The Great Falls Public Schools board voted 6-1, with Mark Finnicum dissenting, to adopt a policy that authorizes Superintendent Tom Moore to implement, adjust or rescind health protocols in schools dependent on local COVID-19 transmission rates.

The policy is a modified version of what has been in place since March 2020, which required masks in all public schools.

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

The full policy is available here.

Under the new policy, Moore could implement mask requirements in schools when local transmission rates are high or substantial, using this chart.

During the Aug. 19 special GFPS board meeting, parents spoke for about 1.5 hours, most opposing masks in schools.

Board members said that while the majority of those speaking in person during the meeting were opposed to masks, they’d received about an equal amount of written comment or calls from those in favor of maintaining mask requirements in some fashion.

Superintendent recommends returning to school with mask recommendation, no mandate; GFPS board to vote later [Aug.9]

Under the policy, Moore said he would open schools Aug. 25 with a mask requirement for the elementary schools only since those students are largely ineligible for the vaccine at this time.

Because elementary students aren’t eligible for the vaccine, “increasing the levels of protection that we do have available to us as we start the school year seems necessary and prudent,” Moore said.

County COVID case rate climbing; mayor wants to return to Zoom meetings

Since middle and high schoolers have the option for the vaccine, Moore said the district would strongly encourage masks for those students but not require them.

Masks will be required on buses, per a federal order, Moore said.

At the elementary level, when the mask rule is implemented, these would be the protocols, according to Moore’s presentation during the Aug. 19 meeting

Under the newly adopted policy, Moore would also be able to make mask rules or other health protocols, to include school closures, specific to individual schools depending on COVID cases within the district.

As of Aug. 18, the Cascade County case rate was 55.31 per 100,000, according to the City-County Health Department. The case rate is the average of daily new cases over the previous seven days and is calculated on Wednesdays.

Cascade County’s COVID cases increasing

The most recent positivity rate is 13 percent. That rate typically lags a week behind but is calculated over a seven-day period.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatricians, as well as the Montana chapter of the AAP, all recommended reopening schools this fall with universal masking indoors.

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.

State reports most COVID-19 hospitalizations are unvaccinated patients

Of the 94 cases reported by the state on Aug. 17, 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 227 per 100,000, though it was partly that high due to a reporting backlog.

That came down to 98 per 100,000 on Dec. 1, 2020.

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

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.

COVID cases continuing to rise in Cascade County

Here are the hospitalizations by age group from the first week of June through Aug. 10. There were two additional hospitalizations of juveniles in the county that aren’t reflected in these numbers because they were not Cascade County residents, according to CCHD.

  • 0-9: 1
  • 9-19: 0
  • 20-29: 1
  • 30-39: 3
  • 40-49: 4
  • 50-59: 4
  • 60-69: 13
  • 70-79: 5
  • 80-89: 7
  • 90-99: 4

From May 2 to July 31, there were 57 total cases in people age 0-9, and 137 cases age 10-19, according to CCHD.

As of Aug. 19, there were a cumulative 10,438 cases in Cascade County, of which 600 are currently active, according to the state dashboard.

Here’s the age demographic breakdown of cases, per the state:

Age Range Female Male Unidentified Total
0 – 9 228 228 0 456
10-19 544 526 1 1,071
20-29 1,030 1,035 2 2,067
30-39 839 893 3 1,735
40-49 700 640 0 1,340
50-59 749 707 0 1,456
60-69 580 572 1 1,153
70-79 331 370 1 702
80-89 187 171 0 358
90-99 59 34 0 93
100+ 5 2 0 7