UM COVID Communication: February 15, 2022

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Dear UM Family,

While COVID-19 cases in Missoula County remain elevated, data indicate that the surge in cases driven by the Omicron variant is declining rapidly, with the seven-day average cases per 100,000 now 86% lower than on Feb. 1. The COVID Response Team continues to meet regularly to provide insight and expertise for navigating the pandemic. UM officials also continue to meet regularly with local leaders from the Missoula City-County Health Department, local hospitals, schools and others to understand COVID-19 impacts on our community, and the news on this front continues to be encouraging.

We also are encouraged by continued data showing the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines at preventing severe illness, particularly for those who are fully vaccinated and have received a booster shot. In fact, during the Omicron surge of the past few months, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data indicate that hospitalization rates were 16 times higher among unvaccinated adults as compared to adults who were fully vaccinated. With vaccines now widely available, getting vaccinated remains the best way to protect yourself (and others) from the impacts of COVID-19.  

Based on this information, last Friday Commissioner Clayton Christian sent guidance to the campuses in the Montana University System regarding step-down plans for COVID-specific operations. The guidance acknowledges that local decision-making is critical, but directs phasing-out of COVID-19 restrictions as they relate to mask requirements, events and travel.

Of course, each campus and community will adjust policies considering the case levels in their area and other campus-specific factors. As we have throughout the pandemic, UM’s COVID Response Team has closely monitored case data, including hospitalizations and UM-specific cases, in anticipation of conditions where a change in our operations and, specifically, our mask policy, would be possible. We expect, as long as current trends continue, to be to that point very soon.

However, we will take the time necessary to make a data-informed decision. We anticipate that the positive trends noted above will continue, but at present Missoula County is reporting more than 1,700 active cases. We are considering the needs of our campus, as well as our community partners, such as Missoula County Public Schools, Missoula City-County Health Department and local hospitals. We want to give our students, employees and campus visitors time to prepare for a change in our mask policy. Any upcoming campus-level changes will be shared widely and posted to the main page of UM’s COVID website.

It’s been roughly two years since COVID-19 was confirmed in Montana. Throughout this time, you have been steadfast in your patience, cooperation and care for the UM family and our community. We are hopeful that the most difficult days of this pandemic are behind us. 

Be well,

COVID Response Team

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