When the first communication came out of the University of Montana on Sunday regarding the effort to get students to leave the residence halls out of concern that they might be more susceptible to the COVID 19 virus, it alarmed many students and their families.

Communications Director Paula Short explained what happened, and how a revised, much more measured communication followed.

“We have since walked the first one back,” said Short. “That was a misstep and it was not well coordinated, but what I really want to talk about is the intention behind both of those communications, and that is this. We have a number of students who are living in our campus residence halls. This excludes our family and apartment-style housing at University and Lewis and Clark Villages. This is your traditional residence hall on campus. They are two students to a room with shared bathroom and shower, or locker room style facilities. That living environment is not conducive to the social distancing that is recommended to prevent the spread of coronavirus.”

Short made clear that at this time there are no cases of coronavirus on the University of Montana campus, either in the residence halls or in family housing.

“We are eliminating double occupancy, so if there are two students to a room then we are making every effort to get them reassigned so that we can eliminate shared sleeping spaces,” she said. “At the same time, we have some students who traveled home for spring break and have said they do not plan to return to campus this semester, but they do have belongings in their room, so we are making arrangements for them to get their belongings at a later time. We also have students who are checked in to their residence halls, so we’re trying to get a handle on who is here and what their plans are. That was the intention of the original message. The content definitely needed some revision so we sent out a clarification. Again, we apologize for that, but it came out of a place of deep concern, but it had some very serious unintended consequences.”

Short said most of the students who are not physically returning to school this semester are continuing their education through distance learning.

“We have a relatively short amount of time left in the semester, so there’s no need to negate all the work they’ve done so far when we are making it possible for them to complete the semester.”

Short said those who stay on campus will still have meal services available, and they university is asking each student to complete a survey detailing their plans through the end of the spring semester.

More From Newstalk KGVO 1290 AM & 98.3 FM