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UM faculty member tests positive with COVID; health department monitoring campus population

University of Montana dance student Konnor Kambic participates in an outdoor class on campus. The university on Thursday confirmed that a faculty member in the School of Theatre and Dance had been “quarantined after testing positive for COVID.” (William Munoz/Missoula Current)

The University of Montana on Wednesday confirmed in a campus letter that a faculty member had tested positive for COVID-19, and the City-County Health Department said it was closely monitoring the campus for any signs of spread.

Jon Kenneth, interim dean of the College of Arts and Media, said a faculty member in the School of Theatre and Dance had been “quarantined after testing positive for COVID.”

According to the letter, the exposure happened off-campus and was the result of community-spread.

Cindy Farr, incident commander for the City-County Health Department said cases at the university will not be reported separately from the general population, nor will they be identified as campus cases.

“We don’t generally report a case associated with any particular location,” Farr said on Thursday. “The university may chose to self report if they see a cluster. In order to protect the privacy of those involved, we don’t report that information.”

Farr said the health department has been working with university officials on a number of COVID-related topics, such as campus testing, contact tracing and how and where students living on campus would be isolated if the need arises.

As it stands, Farr said UM has plans to facilitate testing on campus.

“When a positive COVID case is identified, they will report that to us at the health department,” Farr said. “Those students who live on campus will then be put into isolation. We’ll proceed with contact tracing the same way we do with all our other cases.”

While the health department doesn’t plan to report campus cases separately, exceptions could be made if a cluster emerges and the reporting data is needed to complete contact tracing. In the past, the health department identified a local restaurant after an employee tested positive, but only to aid in tracing known contacts.

“We are tracking cases associated with UM so we have clearer overall picture of what’s happening with COVID in our community,” said Farr. “If cases associated with the university were to skew our data, we’d address that publicly.”

As of Thursday morning, Missoula County had reported 417 total cases, 47 of which remain active. Three people have died of the virus in the county.

Statewide, 6,785 cases have been reported since the virus began and 98 have died. As of Thursday morning, more than 1,700 cases were active and 125 people were being hospitalized.

Yellowstone County has the most active cases at 847, following by Big Horn County at 191 and Flathead County at 119.