Oct. 16, 2020: UM COVID-19 Testing Update


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Dear UM Colleagues,


As you know, testing for COVID-19 continues to be an essential part of our strategy for reduced transmission on campus and in the community. UM is following state guidelines for our testing protocols. State guidelines for testing are:


  • First priority for student testing is for those with symptoms and close contacts to positive cases. Student-athletes also are in this first priority per NCAA requirements.
  • Second priority are asymptomatic individuals and surveillance testing.


UM’s current campus testing capability is primarily for symptomatic students and conducted by Curry Health Center. COVID-19 testing for symptomatic employees occurs off-campus through primary caregivers, walk-in clinics or the Missoula County testing facility on Flynn Lane. Additionally, there have been opportunities for asymptomatic employee tests offered during WellCheck events.


The recent announcement of the establishment of a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments-certified diagnostic testing laboratory for SARS-CoV-2 at the UM Genomics Core (UMGC) is a positive development. Our goal is to build capacity to 1,500 to 2,000 tests per week in that facility. However, it’s important to note the Genomics Core testing capacity is directed by the Montana Department of Health and Public Human Services state lab. Accordingly, the Genomics Core will run UM tests only when those tests are routed here by DPHHS. Presently, the genomics lab has been permitted by DPHHS to test our student-athletes in accordance with NCAA guidelines. As the Genomics Core builds capacity and refines processes in coming weeks, we anticipate it will receive samples from a variety of sources in western Montana, including UM, as directed and routed by Missoula City-County Health Department.


There are some other promising developments that should further benefit our testing capacity. The state is receiving a supply BinaxNOW™ tests, which are self-administered and deliver results in 15 minutes. These tests were designed for symptomatic testing and have a high accuracy rate when used in that manner. The first shipment is small – less than 40,000 – and DPHHS plans to deploy two-thirds of those across the K-12 and higher education systems. So, UM will receive a very small number of these tests initially. We still are assessing the best way to deploy these tests in anticipation that many more will become available with increased production.


Even with our increased capacity, the number of symptomatic tests needed across the state still exceeds capacity. On average, the state is performing 4,500 to 5,000 tests per day, but about one-third of those tests are sent to labs outside Montana. So as you hear about additional testing, keep in mind that the new capacity is in many ways already spoken for to meet current demands.


I am hopeful that between the addition of the genomics lab testing capacity on campus and the advent of the rapid self-tests, opportunities for testing for UM employees will arise. For now, the avenues described above represent the best options for employees who develop COVID-19 symptoms. I will provide updates as UM’s testing strategies evolve.


Scott Whittenburg
Vice President for Research and Creative Scholarship

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