Montana universities to receive up to $20 million for testing

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

HELENA – Campuses in the Montana University System (MUS) will receive up to $20 million from coronavirus relief dollars to support fall semester COVID-19 testing of students.

Gov. Steve Bullock announced the funding Aug. 6.

"The ability of our Montana students to continue their education on campus this fall is critical to our state’s future, but we must ensure that we are doing so safely – and a comprehensive testing strategy is a key piece to making that possible," Bullock said. "This funding will enable campuses to carry out testing and response protocols that are targeted, rapid and effective."

MUS will prioritize rapid detection and isolation of new COVID-19 cases, rapid contact tracing for each of those cases, and rapid quarantine and testing of individuals who have had close contact with positive COVID-19 cases. To prioritize resources, MUS will not test each student arriving at its campuses, but tests will be available to those who need them, and MUS will also use epidemiological surveillance testing to improve effectiveness of mitigation efforts. 

MUS testing protocols are based on extensive consultation with university system medical directors and epidemiologists, as well as public health officials.

"We’re taking a strategic approach designed to quickly identify and isolate infected individuals and their contacts," said Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian. "It’s sustainable and targeted, with a focus on rapid testing, aggressive contact tracing and rapid quarantine and testing of those contacts.

"We’re deeply grateful to the governor for this funding, which will help us better implement our testing protocols and procedures," he added, noting that while testing is critical to mitigating COVID-19, it is but one piece of a comprehensive plan.

"We’ve established a physical environment designed to curb the spread of COVID, but its effectiveness depends on each of us doing the right thing – wear a face covering, stay home if you’re sick, mind your social distance, wash your hands and avoid large gatherings," Christian said. "As we welcome students and employees back to campus, we’re asking everyone to show your school spirit in the fight against COVID-19."

Funding for the testing is derived from the state’s allocation of federal relief dollars made available through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Funds will be used to assist with rapid testing of symptomatic individuals, contract tracing for positive cases, and quarantine efforts.