County aligns with governor’s directives
Mask mandate expired
The Madison County Board of Health held a quarterly meeting on March 16. The board voted unanimously to align county directives regarding mask wearing and group size limits with Gov. Greg Gianforte’s directives.
On Feb. 12, Gov. Gianforte rescinded the statewide mask mandate, emphasizing that personal responsibility and locally made decisions are more effectively than government mandates. Group gatherings were to be assessed on a case-by-case basis, no numerical limit required, and follow CDC guidelines. Masks are encouraged in areas with poor ventilation and in public spaces, as is six feet of social distancing.
The county’s 60-day mask mandate, issued Jan. 26, expired at midnight on March 16.
The board had a brief conversation before making a motion, noting lower numbers of active COVID-19 cases in the county and low to no cases of influenza and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) in the county and country as a result of mask wearing prompted by the coronavirus.
“The masks have been beneficial on those accounts,” Board member Margaret Bortko said.
“Being out in the community, there are many who don’t mask regardless. I think we’re at the point where we can consider whether this is really a necessary mandate anymore,” Board member Molly Biehl said.
Board member and Ennis School District Nurse Whitney Marsh pointed out that school boards have a depth of knowledge about their individual communities and will be able to make the appropriate decisions regarding masks in schools for their districts.
“People who want to receive the vaccine are in the process of getting fully vaccinated, and on top of that, with the mask mandate, that will go down to school boards,” she said. Additionally, Marsh pointed out that individuals may continue to mask up if they so choose.
As it was with Gov. Gianforte’s Feb. 12 decision, going down the ladder, county boards of health were able to be stricter, but not more lenient than the governor’s orders. The same is the case now—school boards can require masks in their districts but are not allowed to be laxer than the county’s directives.
“The schools have done a phenomenal job of keeping themselves open to serve the children and the communities so that families can go to work, and I really want to make sure that we all understand that the sacrifices…have made a difference for our communities and for our county,” Pam Birkeland, Madison County superintendent, said.
Ennis and Alder School Districts will continue to require masks.
Sheridan School District will not have a mask mandate in place, unless a high-risk employee is interacting with students. Masks are recommended.
Harrison School District will not require masks but encourage them. Students in Harrison School District must wear masks in small group settings where social distancing is difficult, and the group gathers for more than 10-15 minutes. Students must also wear masks on buses.
Twin Bridges School District will not require masks, but mask wearing is encouraged. The school board voted on March 17 to align policy with the county’s directive regarding group gathering limits, removing any numerical threshold.