28,10,0,50,1
600,600,60,1,3000,5000,25,800
90,150,1,50,12,30,50,1,70,12,1,50,1,1,1,5000
0,1,0,0,0,40,10,5,0,1,0,15,0,1
Montana COVID-19 testing
Montana COVID-19 testing lab
Montana COVID-19 testing lab
Boulder River Bridge view
Boulder River Bridge view
Combat Crochet
Combat Crochet
Montana Governor Steve Bullock at Innovate Montana 2019
Montana Governor Steve Bullock at Innovate Montana 2019
Bikers and Hikers stranded at Mystic Lake Cabin
Bikers and Hikers stranded at Mystic Lake Cabin
Goat Fire mapped at 300 acres
Goat Fire fought in rugged terrain
Goat Fire fought in rugged terrain
Griz management exceeds sustainable mortality rate
Griz management exceeds sustainable mortality rate

The Sept. 17 letter was sent to Director Adam Meier via email by 18 staff epidemiologists.

Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services DPHHS

HELENA — In an internal letter delivered last month, scientific staff at the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services criticized the evidence used by health department Director Adam Meier and Gov. Greg Gianforte to justify an August emergency rule discouraging school mask mandates, saying some claims made by the rule were “misleading and false.”

The Sept. 17 letter was sent to Meier via email by Senior Epidemiologist Lisa Richidt and was co-signed by 17 additional staff epidemiologists. Their letter said the rule misrepresented the scientific literature by asserting that masks haven’t been proven effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19 and that prolonged mask wearing can harm children.

The result, the scientists said, is a rule that undermines the health department’s credibility, “contributes to the spread of misinformation,” makes it harder for local public health officials to keep their communities safe and fosters divisiveness as school officials determine whether mask mandates are appropriate for their facilities.

The emergency rule has previously been criticized by the Montana Nurses Association, which said it “promotes junk science” in a Sept. 8 memo. The letter from the epidemiologists, however, is the first public indication that discomfort about the evidence used to justify the rule extends into ranks of the state’s staff scientists.

The letter, which Montana Free Press had sought via an unfulfilled public records request, was provided to MTFP this week by an anonymous source. One of its signatories independently verified that the document in MTFP’s possession is the document they signed. 

Gianforte spokesman Travis Hall declined to comment on the epidemiologists’ letter Tuesday, referring an inquiry to the health department.

Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services DPHHS

Montana Nurses Association slams state rule on school mask mandates

On Wednesday, the Montana Nurses Association responded to the Department of Public Health and Human Services’ emergency rule on school mask mandates. The association’s memo said the rule violates state law and “promotes junk science.”

The rule also holds that “there is a body of literature, scientific as well as survey/anecdotal, on the negative health consequences that some individuals, especially some children, experience as a result of prolonged mask wearing.” That claim was sourced to a scientific article that reviewed evidence from 44 studies.

The staff scientists write that only four of those 44 studies were specific to children, and that of those four, three didn’t directly measure health consequences, as opposed to factors such as children’s self-reported comfort after six minutes of masked exercise. The fourth study, they say, concluded that children’s physiological parameters were “well within the acceptable range” after kids wore masks for five minutes.

“As DPHHS employees, it is demoralizing to have the Department issue a Public Health Emergency Rule that is not founded in the science of public health,” the epidemiologists wrote.

Ebelt, the health department spokesman, said Tuesday that Meier has reached out to the agency’s epidemiologists “with an invitation to sit down in person to discuss the emergency rule in more detail, answer questions, and address concerns.”

 

ERIC DIETRICH

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Eric Dietrich is a journalist and data designer and the founder of the Long Streets economic reporting project. His reporting focuses broadly on Montana’s governance and economic opportunity, with particular focus on the state budget and tax policy. He also contributes data reporting across the MTFP newsroom. Before joining the MTFP staff in 2019, he worked for the Great Falls Tribune, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, and Solutions Journalism Network and also earned an engineering degree from Montana State University. Contact Eric at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 406-465-3386 ext. 2, and follow him on Twitter.