After the COVID-19 pandemic began tearing its way through the United States in March, many college students were left to wonder what their fall 2020 semester would look like. For most, returning to campus meant “hybrid” or “blended” instruction, mask-wearing and no social gatherings. For some, it meant a return to fully online instruction or mass quarantines as COVID-19 outbreaks began at the start of the semester on some of the largest college campuses in the country. The massive coverage of these outbreaks at schools such as UNC Chapel Hill and Michigan State has led many students on MSU’s campus to wonder how MSU is dealing with outbreaks.
MSU has yet to transparently release any university-affiliated COVID-19 cases. The decision for MSU to abstain from releasing such COVID-19 information has caused disdain in the Bozeman community. Students, faculty and Bozeman citizens cannot easily access MSU affiliated case counts at this time. Michael Becker, Director of MSU News Service, sat down with the Exponent to answer some of the community’s most pressing questions.
Q: What is the university's rationale for not releasing the number of COVID-19 cases among students at MSU, even though universities and colleges across the country are doing so?
A: “I think there are a lot of misconceptions about what information MSU has or that there is some cache of information that isn't being publicized. The Gallatin City-County Health Department is the only agency comprehensively tracking the number of COVID-19 cases in the county. All MSU students, faculty and staff who are Gallatin County residents and who are tested would be tracked in the county's numbers, which are reported regularly on the health department's website and through the Department of Public Health and Human Services website at the state level. MSU does not have a separate number of cases that are affiliated with the campus; only the Gallatin City-County Health Department has access to and compiles that information.”
Q: Will testing for asymptomatic individuals be available in the future?
A: “MSU is working with the Montana University System and with state and local health agencies to explore targeted [smart] surveillance testing at MSU. Targeted surveillance testing for asymptomatic individuals is happening already on a limited basis in Montana for high-risk groups, such as nursing home staff and health care workers. As the state is able to increase its testing capacities, obtain additional supplies of test kits and expand the infrastructure necessary to manage case results, we might have the capacity to increase surveillance testing in Montana and on the Montana State University campus.”
Q: What occurs once a student has tested positive for COVID-19 on the MSU-Bozeman campus?
A: “In general, if a student lives off-campus, that student should return to their home and follow the directions of their health care provider and the Gallatin City-County Health Department. For on-campus residents, there is quarantine and isolation housing available.”
During these uncertain times, accurate and timely information is at a premium. While a number of rumors fly around campus, knowing the facts of our situation here at MSU is crucial to staying safe during the fall 2020 semester.