Appearing with Governor Steve Bullock in Helena on Thursday, Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian explained how the Montana University System will use the $20 million provided by the state to help deal with the COVID 19 pandemic as campuses prepare to open.

“In a nutshell, our research and consult patients have led to testing strategies that focus on trying to keep individual cases from turning into clusters and to try and keep clusters from turning into bigger outbreaks,” said Christian. “So that is where we dedicated most of the funds that the governor is committing to the university system today.”

Christian said the bulk of the testing supplies will be used for those who are already symptomatic.

“We'll have a laser focus on addressing symptomatic individuals through rapid quarantine, rapid testing, and isolation of individuals who test positive, rapid contact tracing,” he said. “So that we can identify individuals that have been in close contact and help them to get safely to rapid quarantine areas, and then test others that have been in close contact and so on.”

Christian explained why there will be little asymptomatic testing on the Montana college campuses.

“A single test event could certainly miss many cases in the early stages of the infection or subsequent exposure after that single test,” he said. “It would also provide the COVID status for only a specific point in time, and means nothing as we move forward. Meanwhile, this type of testing would consume tremendous amounts of resources that we feel and experts feel are better spent conducting strategic testing and response throughout the semester.”

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.