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Bullock praises MSU in new state partnership to boost sentinel testing for COVID

Gov. Steve Bullock praised MSU for making available its equipment and expertise, saying Montana can’t risk its public health over a testing shortage and a lack of a national testing strategy.

Montana State University took the headlines Wednesday in Gov. Steve Bullock’s latest COVID-19 briefing, where he said the state will partner with the Bozeman campus to conduct surveillance testing of asymptomatic patients.

Bullock praised MSU for making available its equipment and expertise, saying Montana can’t risk its public health over a testing shortage and a lack of a national testing strategy.

“We don’t want to be left high and dry again in the event that a national demand for testing puts a state like ours onto the back burner,” Bullock said. “I’m confident with MSU’s research enterprise and ingenuity. MSU has been an enthusiastic partner in helping our state solve the testing capacity shortage.”

Last week, Bullock and other state health officials expressed concern over a growing backlog in receiving test results, one that had grown to more than a week. That challenged local health departments in their ability to conduct effective contact tracing.

In place of the former testing lab, the state has contracted MAKO Medical – a North Carolina lab – to run additional samples of up to 1,000 per day. Those results are expected back in two to three days.

“Last week we performed the most tests to date at 18,521 a week,” Bullock said. “Those testing goals are goals we set to achieve collectively as Montana. I refuse to let the shortcomings from a lack of a national testing strategy stop us in our tracks.”

MSU’s researchers will begin the surveillance testing next week, with a capability of testing 500 people per day. The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services will determine what populations need to be tested for surveillance.

MSU President Wadad Cruzado praised the partnership.

“As the state’s land-grant university, this kind of service and outreach to the people of Montana is what we are called to do,” Cruzado said. “Montana State University’s researchers have poured their creative energies into this project as well as other important endeavors that benefit the communities we serve.”

As of Wednesday morning, Montana had reported 2,813 cases of coronavirus, up 104 over the prior day. More than 1,225 cases are considered active and 52 people are currently being hospitalized for the virus.

Missoula County, which tried but ultimately abandoned surveilance testing earlier this month, also saw its case numbers climb by seven on Wednesday, bringing its total cases to 187. Incident commander City Farr said two county residents and four non county residents are currently being hopsitalized.

The county has 56 active cases and more than 340 close contacts.

“We see people now complying with the face covering rule, which is intended to protect public health and keep businesses open,” Farr said on Wednesday.