The University of Montana Faculty Senate demanded the Montana University System and the UM administration allow the public to view the number of students who have tested positive for COVID-19 in an Aug. 25 resolution.
Currently, there is no system in place to disclose how many students, staff or faculty have tested positive for the coronavirus.
“It is critically important that the community have access to accurate and up-to-date information regarding COVID-19 activity and threat level on the University of Montana campus,” the resolution stated. “Let it be resolved that The Faculty Senate urges the University of Montana to immediately create a UM COVID-safe dashboard.”
The faculty senate resolution comes as UM and colleges around the country balance keeping student information private and informing campus communities of the severity of the coronavirus on their campuses.
The Kaimin reached out to the health department, and found the department is authorized to release a total number of tests and their positivity rating from Curry. It confirmed Curry tested 284 people since the start of the pandemic on March 8 through Aug. 27, with 4% of those testing coming back positive.
There is no data on how many active COVID-19 cases are associated with UM or campus.
Dionne Peterson, director of testing at Curry Health Center, said in an email that UM cannot release the number of students tested because it must follow the privacy rules in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
These pieces of legislation protect students from the release of their private education and health records to the public, which includes their location. Despite the need to secure privacy, the Faculty Senate noted in its resolution that other universities, like the University of Dayton, have public releases of student, faculty and staff COVID numbers.
UM Director of Communications Paula Short said in an email Aug. 28 that UM will also not confirm when, whether or how many people might be in quarantine or isolation due to privacy concerns.
“I do worry that, if students believe their privacy cannot be maintained (especially if they have to move to quarantine or isolation), it could become a barrier to them seeking testing,” Short said.
While Short confirmed in an Aug 25. Kaimin article that UM designated roughly 40 housing units in Aber hall for students needing to isolate, she said in the Aug. 28 email that they will not release the number of students in isolation, or the number of total and available rooms.
“While it’s become common knowledge that Aber is available for isolation (and thus, is not housing any other students), we do not plan to identify specific rooms/floors/units designated for Q&I because of privacy considerations,” Short said in an email.
The Faculty Senate argued that the public numbers of coronavirus cases are needed to help inform students’ decisions on whether or not they are comfortable being on campus and attending in-person classes.
Fellow MUS school Montana State University said the school has nine active COVID-19 cases as of Aug. 28. The Gallatin County Health Officer Matt Kelley also confirmed 22 students have recovered from the virus since the start of the pandemic.
More information about COVID-19 on campus: