Health department addresses vented masks during COVID-19 update


Last updated 8/17/2020 at 11:30am

The Hill County Health Board discussed during its meeting Friday recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding vented masks as well as providing updates on the department’s recent activities.

In the past two weeks, the CDC has put out guidance saying that masks with vents or valves are not effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19 as they can allow far more exhaled droplets, through which the virus spreads, to escape than would a normal face mask.

Hill County Health Officer Jessica Sheehy recommended that people wear non-vented face masks that fit over the nose, but said a vented mask is better than nothing.

“Any mask is better than no mask,” Sheehy said, “… It’s kind of like wearing your mask below your nose or those types of things.”

She said the governor’s mask directive is still in effect in Hill County as it is still above the four case threshold, but the department is, as always, recommending that people wear masks regardless of whether the country is at four cases or less.

Sheehy also said the department is recommending against events and gatherings of more than 50 people and that such events pose significant risks.

“A lot of what we’re seeing in other counties with outbreaks, Philips County is the closest, is certainly cases resulting from large events, weddings, sporting events and things like that,” she said. “So, we’re urging people really to limit these as much as possible.”

Hill County Health Director Kim Larson could not be at the meeting, but Hill County Commissioner Mike Wendland read her report.

That report also cautioned against people in the county holding large events.

“We have seen in the last week the effect that large events can have on cases in a county and we don’t want to see that in Hill County,” the report said.

Sheehy said the department has spent much of the last week in contact with K-12 schools in the county as well Montana State University-Northern, continuing to provide guidance about re-openings.

“Everyone has been really great and upfront,” she said, “I think all of us from the health department and certainly the school board and the college are all concerned about students coming back and trying to do it in the safest way possible.”

Larson’s report also said the department met with Havre public schools before the school district’s board meeting last week and are continuing to meet with them regarding what athletics will look like in the fall.

The report commended the local schools for the time and effort put into making their re-opening plans as well as their creativity.

Sheehy said the department and the schools are working as hard as they can to ensure safety for students and staff, but that the plans do take time to create an implement.

“We know we’re going to be expecting cases, so we’re asking that parents and staff to be patient with administration and the health department as we work through these re-opening plans,” she said.

Sheehy also provided an update on the testing situation in Hill County and Montana as a whole. She said the county is primarily still testing symptomatic people and their contacts and asymptomatic testing has been put on hold.

The state has been working with private labs, she said, getting them up and running to process tests and prevent another backlog like the state recently saw with Quest Diagnostics.

She said since that backlog has been eliminated, turnaround for tests has been noticeably better, but for now the state is doing targeted asymptomatic testing, primarily in counties with significant ongoing outbreaks.

“I don’t think in Hill County, knock on wood, that we will be seeing asymptomatic testing for a while,” she said.

Hill County Attorney Karen Alley said it’s been a quiet week for her working with the health department.

She said there have been no problems with people not complying with the governor’s recent directives this week.

The next COVID-19 update will be Friday at 1 p.m.


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