Dillon cited as site of COVID-19 infection

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Montana’s Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian revealed last weekend that he has tested “presumptive positive” for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus currently spreading around the state, the U.S. and the world.

And Christian announced that he may well have contracted the coronavirus while in Dillon.

“Health officials believe the Commissioner may have contracted the virus at the Montana University System Board of Regents meeting at the University of Montana Western in Dillon March 4–6. Another individual who was at the meeting also tested positive,” Christian’s office announced in a release on Saturday, citing another unidentified meeting attendee from Silver Bow County.

“Both began to show symptoms days after the meeting.”

Held March 4–6 in the Great Room of the Swysgood Technology Center (STC) on the campus of the University of Montana Western (UMW), that Board of Regents (BOR) meeting brought higher education officials from around Montana to Dillon to discuss and make decisions on issues related to the state’s university system.

“The Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education also has advised all Montana University System personnel who attended the BOR meeting to selfquarantine for 14 days (until March 20). An additional group of 10 OCHE employees who interacted directly with the Commissioner after the meeting will self-quarantine, working from home. Self-quarantine dates for this group vary based on the individuals’ most recent date of contact with the Commissioner as follows: 6 will selfquarantine through the 24th; 4 will self-quarantine through the 25th.”

Some UMW administrators, teachers and students were among the dozens of people in attendance at the Board of Regents meeting, which included optional campus tours.

“Right now I can’t con firm that there are any others. But this situation is evolving so quickly, hour to hour,” UMW Chancellor Beth Weatherby told the Dillon Tribune yesterday on whether anyone else who was at the Board of Regents meeting has tested positive for COVID-19.

Still, the UMW administration is advising that some people who were at the meeting take dramatic preventative measures.

“Those who spent significant time at the Board of Regents meeting in the STC Great Room should self-quarantine. Those include the Chancellor, Vice Chancellors, Dean of Students, Director of Communications, Foundation Director, the Dean of the School of Outreach, the ITS-Computer Technician, the Faculty Senate President, and Associated Students of University of Montana Western (ASUMW) leaders,” Weatherby wrote in a message posted on the school’s website Sunday, March 15.

“Our local public health officials have advised that family or household members do not need to be added to quarantine,” added Weatherby n the March 15 announcement.

As indicated during their get together on March 6, some Board of Regents meeting attendees also went to the women’s basketball game between Montana Western and Montana Tech the previous night at Straugh Gymnasium on the UMW campus.

On Friday, March 13, Keltz Arena, which sits just down the hall from Straugh Gymnasium on the UMW campus, hosted a Beaverhead Rural Science Fair attended by more than 100 people, including area students, parents and teachers.

“All that we have received is the direction that people who spent a substantial amount of time at Board of Regents meeting in the STC Great Room should quarantine,” Weatherby told the Tribune yesterday.

UMW announced March 12 that spring break for its students would be extended, with the start date for its next block of classes originally scheduled to begin March 16, postponed by a week, due to concerns over COVID-19.

The weeklong delay will allow the university to apply guidelines recently suggested by the national Center for Disease Control (CDC) on social distancing and transition its classes from traditional classroom settings to remote classes conducted online, starting March 23

“Following the guidelines from the CDC and social distancing protocols, we are encouraging our students to remain off-campus, if at all possible, to take their courses for the rest of the semester. Our campus will be open to provide key services like computer labs, dining services, library access, technology support, and business services, but we are trying to limit the number of student gatherings as much as possible to limit the potential spread of the COVID-19 virus,” wrote Weatherby in the March 12 online communication.

“If you live in the residence halls and don’t have other housing options, we welcome you back. You must check in at the Residence Hall front desk when you arrive so that we can make sure you have everything you need.”

Weatherby is providing daily updates on the situation on the UMW website.

A spokesperson for Commissioner Christian declined to comment on how his condition has evolved since testing positive for COVID-19, citing privacy concerns.

COVID-19 is a potentially fatal respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus. First detected in China last year, the coronavirus has since circulated around the world, leading to thousands of deaths from COVID-19.

As of Tuesday, March 17, the CDC reported that the U.S. had 3,487 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 68 deaths.