UM, MT Health Department Partner to Grow COVID-19 Testing Capacity

Maj. Gen. Matt Quinn, commander of the Montana COVID-19 Task Force (second from left), visits a UM lab on Oct. 9 to discuss increased testing capacity for the state. Pictured with him are (left to right) UM President Seth Bodnar, Assistant Professor Jeff Good and Genomics Lab manager David Xing.

MISSOULA – As demand for COVID-19 testing increases across Montana, the University of Montana is launching a new partnership with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services to process COVID-19 tests on campus.

The partnership between UM and DPHHS will provide the state of Montana with more COVID-19 testing capacity at this critical time.

“UM is eager to expand our public health partnership to best serve our students and the state of Montana,” UM President Seth Bodnar said. “I give special thanks to everyone at UM and in Helena who worked so hard to put this agreement in place. Going forward, UM is now in position to add critical capacity to our state’s robust testing efforts.”

UM has worked closely with DPHHS for weeks to secure the additional equipment and Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) certification needed to process COVID-19 tests on campus. UM researchers will begin processing COVID-19 tests early next week at the UM Genomics Core – an on-campus research lab that provides molecular and genetics research services.

“I am grateful to our UM faculty, staff and students for adapting so quickly to fill this need and fulfill our responsibility as Montana’s research university,” said Scott Whittenburg, UM vice president for research and creative scholarship. “As a result of their hard work, once we ramp up UM will be able to process up to 2,000 COVID-19 tests a week for the state.”

The state of Montana’s daily COVID-19 testing rate has steadily increased since the beginning of the pandemic, and, to date, the state has conducted a cumulative total of about 400,000 tests.

“UM creating this additional testing capacity is really important for the citizens of Montana,” said Maj. Gen. Matt Quinn, adjutant general of the Montana National Guard and commander of the Montana COVID-19 Task Force. “Every test that we can process across the state of Montana is critical to ensuring citizens can get their test results faster.”

The new COVID-19 testing partnership between UM and DPHHS is in addition to the point-of-care testing already conducted at UM’s Curry Health Center. Each day, the center provides tests and immediate results to students who are showing COVID-19 symptoms or have been identified as a close contact of someone who has tested COVID-19 positive by the Missoula City-County Health Department.

In addition to ramping up testing capacity on campus, UM researchers also are working around the clock to help identify and advance a COVID-19 vaccine. Led by Dr. Jay Evans, UM’s Center for Translational Medicine has been awarded $2.5 million to study the use of adjuvants to increase the effectiveness of a potential COVID-19 vaccine. The work being done by Evans’ team, in partnership with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, has garnered UM international attention – including being ranked as one of the top 10 “Best Universities for Solving the Coronavirus Pandemic.”

UM also will continue its partnership between the UM School of Public and Community Health Sciences and the Missoula City-County Health Department, which is working each day to measure the impact and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the Missoula area.


Contact: Scott Whittenburg, UM vice president for research and creative scholarship, 406-243-6670,