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Missoula Health Board Challenges State Law That Contradicts CDC Guidelines

A COVID-19 vaccination record card and a disposable mask.

In the spring, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a law that prohibits discrimination based on vaccination status – the only such law in the country. But the law contradicts CDC guidelines, and now a local health board is testing its legality.

The Missoula City-County Board of Health unanimously voted to continue to follow a CDC guidance that has different COVID-19 quarantine recommendations for the vaccinated versus the unvaccinated.

For example, the federal agency recommends that the unvaccinated quarantine after a close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus. But it says that's unnecessary for the fully vaccinated, unless they are showing symptoms. It also recommends fully vaccinated people get tested three to five days after their exposure, and to mask up for 14 days after the exposure, or until they receive a negative test result.

During Tuesday's meeting, board chairman Ross Miller welcomed litigation

"If that means that we invite a lawsuit because of some poorly crafted legislation that thought this virus, this pandemic, was going to go away as soon as they adjourned, so be it," he said.

Like much of the Mountain West, a COVID-19 surge in Montana is straining its hospitals and healthcare workers.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Maggie Mullen is Wyoming Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. Her work has aired on NPR, Marketplace, Science Friday, and Here and Now. She was awarded a 2019 regional Edward R. Murrow Award for her story on the Black 14.

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