Jefferson County is now under a mask requirement, based on a directive issued Friday, Feb. 19, by the health officer, and in collaboration with the Health Board.
The move was prompted by the repeal of the state-wide mask mandate on Feb. 12, and which had been in place since last July.
Public Health Supervisor Pam Hanna is also in support of the directive.
This directive includes all businesses, government offices, schools and other indoor areas where the public is invited to enter, according to the directive signed by Health Board Chairperson Christina Binkowski and Health Officer Sandy Sacry
A mask will also be required at outdoor events where social distancing is not possible or observed.
Exceptions to the mask requirement apply to children under the age of five — although they are encouraged to wear a face covering. Children under
two should not wear a mask, according to the directive.
Other exceptions include those eating and drinking in an establishment that offers food and drink; those engaged in an activity that makes wearing a mask impractical or unsafe, such as strenuous physical activity or swimming.
However, spectators watching an indoor activity are subject to this directive.
Other exceptions include those trying to communicate with the hearing impaired, people giving a speech or engaging in a performance — provided the audience is at least six feet away; those removing their face covering for identification purposes; and those receiving medical treatment or evaluation.
Businesses, government offices and other indoor spaces should accommodate those who fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Montana Human Rights Act or any other applicable law — and this can be done through curbside or via delivery.
The Health Board will review the criteria used to determine the need for protective measures at each of its regularly scheduled meetings, and the next meeting is March 2.
The Health Department will also review the criteria on a weekly basis and inform the Board of any changes in performance. The criteria includes positive cases to be at 25 or lower per 100,000 population and the completion of Phase 1C vaccinations in the county.
The county is currently at seven cases per 100,000, and while it has met the first part of the criteria, it hasn’t met the vaccination piece, said Hanna.
Phase IC includes frontline essential workers; persons aged 60 years and older; individuals residing in congregate care and correctional facilities; Persons aged 16-59 with medical conditions not included in phase 1B that may have an elevated-risk of COVID19 complications, according to the Department of Public Health and Human Services.
Currently the county is vaccinating those in Phase 1B, tier 2, which is persons age 70 and over. Phase 1B has six tiers in Jefferson County.
Hanna explained why masks remain an important tool in fighting COVID-19.
“Jefferson County is experiencing the lowest daily case count we have seen in several months. Working to keep our case count low allows the health department to prioritize our resources; time, staff and energy on vaccination. If cases rise again our efforts will need to be balanced with case investigation and contact tracing,” she said.
Hanna said her staff is grateful to those who have stepped up to volunteer in the office, but they are still stressed because vaccinating the residents of Jefferson County is now a priority.
The directive will remain in force until removed by the Health Board.
“Masking is an important non-pharmaceutical intervention we need to adhere to as we work to distribute vaccine. Jefferson County has just begun its vaccination efforts. We are weeks away from having our vulnerable population vaccinated. Masking, distancing, hand washing and vaccination are tools we need to use to open our economy, keep our schools in-person and return to activities we enjoy. Jefferson County has done a great job of lowering the incidence of COVID-19 within our communities. I have great appreciation for all who have been dedicated to slowing the spread of COVID-19. Thank you for doing your best to keep your family, friends and neighbors safe and healthy,” said Hanna.
The most recent report on new cases of COVID-19 showed that the county had dropped to eight active cases as of Feb. 18.
The Health Department is also stepping up its vaccination efforts and will have three clinics this week — at the Montana City Volunteer Fire Department on Tuesday, Feb.23; all day Wednesday at the Health Department in Boulder and a clinic at the fairgrounds on Saturday, Feb. 27. The Whitehall Medical Clinic is now a registered COVID-19 vaccinator so it is assisting with the effort in the southern end of the county.
Jefferson County is following in the footsteps of neighboring Lewis and Clark and Silver Bow counties, which have also kept a mask requirement in place.