Dear UM Family,
As you may have seen, the number of COVID-19 cases across the state continues to rise, with state officials reporting 333 new cases yesterday – the largest single-day total since the start of the pandemic. The Missoula City-County Health Department is reporting 95 new cases countywide over the past 48 hours, of which 28 are UM cases. This brings the total to 76 active cases currently among the UM community. It’s important to provide some additional context to this data based on our frequent conversations with MCCHD. With regard to recent cases and UM cases in general:
- With very few exceptions (which we will describe in a moment), there is little evidence to suggest that new COVID-19 infections are resulting from contacts in our classrooms and learning spaces. Our mitigation efforts are working: Students and faculty are, in most cases, able to consistently maintain physical distancing, mask compliance is high and the use of hand sanitizer and surface disinfectants contribute to our success. Please keep up the good work in these areas.
- One trend our public health experts have identified among our cases is the connection to activities (both academic and non-curricular) where consistent distancing and mask wearing is more difficult. Examples include vocal and music instruction, which often requires removing masks to sing or play instruments, and also activity-based classes and sports practices where strenuous physical exertion also impacts the ability to consistently and continually wear a mask. Again, these are specific and limited instances, but they do merit sharing to explore additional measures we can take to reduce transmission.
- Separately, we continue to see social activities (both on and off campus) during evenings and weekends where mask-wearing and social distancing are not consistently occurring. Please remember that what you do outside of class/work/campus is critical, and it affects our entire community. Several of our positive clusters can be traced to off-campus social activities.
- At this time, most UM cases are connected to clusters. As we’ve shared previously, having cases in clusters is a good thing: It’s better to have cases that can be tied together than random cases that might signal increased rates of community spread. Indeed, a large proportion of recent UM cases were identified through contact tracing from these initial cases/clusters.
For the next two weeks, the University COVID Response Team and MCCHD have discussed additional mitigations that may be effective in slowing the rates of transmission on campus. We ask for your help in implementing these measures. They include:
- Non-curricular, non-work activities where strict and consistent mitigation cannot be assured will be conducted remotely. This includes student group activities, in-person meetings, social events and campus events hosted by outside groups. Some of our student groups, including ASUM, already have transitioned their weekly meetings to Zoom. Groups that currently meet in-person should shift to virtual operations for the next two weeks. If an in-person event must occur, strict adherence to mask-wearing, physical distancing and disinfection of the space post-event is required.
- For academic courses where mask-wearing is not possible, we are implementing additional mitigations, including meeting in outdoor locations, moving to remote delivery or other modifications. Note: As described above, these modifications or pauses for in-person delivery should affect a small number of courses. In-person instruction in standard classrooms with existing mitigations have not been identified as a source of COVID-19 transmission.
- For physical activity-based classes and intramural sports where strict mitigation and control measures are not possible, limit activities to outdoor venues. Intercollegiate Athletics has implemented COVID-19 mitigations per NCAA requirements, along with additional operational adjustments.
As we implement these measures, in-person instruction in standard classrooms with strict mitigation measures will continue, as will our current campus operations as described in the Healthy Fall 2020 Plan.
While the rise in positive cases in Missoula County and on campus is significant, it’s important to note that this increase is not unexpected, though more rapid. The overall number of cases remains low relative to the overall population. However, our hope is that increased mitigation and quick response, as articulated above, can moderate the rise in new cases. We will re-evaluate cases and our operations continually as we move forward.
As we enter another weekend, please practice responsible behaviors to protect yourself and the rest of our UM family. Avoid large crowds and keep your social circles as small as possible. Wear your mask both on and off campus – this is the best tool we have to limit COVID-19 spread.
Remember the three Ws – Wear your mask, Watch your distance and Wash your hands. Use your Healthy Griz Kit. If you don’t have one yet, pick one up in the main office in schools and colleges or at the Mansfield Library.
If you are experiencing symptoms consistent with possible COVID infection (headache, chest tightness, sore throat, congestion and loss of sense of taste or smell) please contact Curry Health Center or your private health care provider to receive a test. We continue to hear, especially for the age demographic of most of our students (18-29), the symptoms of COVID infection can be very mild. Asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic cases do infect others. Do not delay in seeking a test if you’re experiencing symptoms, even if symptoms are mild! Inquire about a test if you experience symptoms or have been identified as a close contact to a positive case. Students can call Curry Health Center to speak with a medical provider. Employees can contact their medical provider or access testing via options listed on the MCCHD testing website. Students can also access these options if Curry Health Center is closed.
Lastly, contact tracers at UM and the county health department are working tirelessly to speak with individuals who have been in close contact with positive cases. If you receive a phone call from a number that you don’t recognize, please answer it. This may be a contact tracer. If they leave you a voicemail, call them back immediately. It is critical that close contacts are quickly identified, contacted and quarantined to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Please check your contact information in CyberBear to ensure we have the best possible phone number to reach you if asked for information by MCCHD contact tracers.
COVID-19 will continue to challenge our campus, community and state for some time. Working together, we can take proactive steps to mitigate risk, reduce transmission and cut the number of positive cases. Thank you for your continued hard work and diligence. We will get through this together.
UM Covid Response Team (CRT)