MSU to provide surveillance COVID-19 testing for Montanans

Gov. Bullock COVID 19 July 22
Posted at 1:37 PM, Jul 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-23 14:46:49-04

HELENA — A large rise of COVID cases across the nation has resulted in Montana having difficulty in getting asymptomatic tests processed in an acceptable amount of time.

Gov. Steve Bullock announced a new partnership with Montana State University that aims to correct that on Wednesday.

Beginning next week, MSU will begin processing asymptomatic COVID-19 tests for Montana.

The state lab is currently working with the university to certify their machines and hope to get them up and running next week.

MSU will initially be able to process 500 tests a day.

They're actively working on developing "pool testing," which would run multiple samples in the same batch to increase their capacity by three to four times.

If a "pool test" came back positive for the virus, the university would then retest all samples from that group individually.

"I’m confident with MSU’s research enterprise and ingenuity. Montana will have much of its testing capacity done here in-state at the university and through our state lab," Gov. Bullock said.

The governor also announced the state has allocated more than $800 million of the $1.25 billion provided to the state for the COVID relief fund.

There are still millions of dollars available in current funding for Montanans and businesses affected by the pandemic.

(first report: July 22, 2020 - 2:24 p.m.)

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock is held a news conference in Helena on Wednesday to provide an update on the COVID-19 situation in Montana.

Gov. Bullock was joined by Montana State University President Waded Cruzado and General Matthew Quinn to announce an update on testing efforts.

The governor announced the state will soon be able to expand surveillance COVID-19 testing for critical front-line health care personnel, essential workers and other groups thanks to a partnership with MSU.

“Surveillance testing of asymptomatic individuals is a powerful tool in helping slow the spread of the virus in our Montana communities,” Gov. Bullock said. “Montana State University has been an enthusiastic partner in helping find a Montana solution to our testing capacity and I am incredibly grateful for their partnership as we work together to protect the health of Montanans.”

MSU researchers will begin the surveillance testing next week, with a capability of testing 500 people per day, according to a news release. The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) will determine what Montana populations need to be tested for surveillance and then will ship the samples to a designated laboratory at MSU.

“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,” said MSU President Waded Cruzado. “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.

MSU will use four qPCR machines to do the surveillance testing at the direction of DPHHS.

“This initiative is a step in the right direction and will serve us well in helping to detect the virus among asymptomatic groups of people so that we can take quick action to stop the virus from spreading,” said Montana National Guard Major General Matthew Quinn, who is leading the Governor’s Coronavirus Task Force.

Gov. Bullock also announced that the state has finalized a contract with a reference lab, MAKO Medical in North Carolina, to begin processing an anticipated 1,000 tests each day from Montana. The state will take a measured approach to ensure a reasonable turn-around time in receiving back test results.