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, according to the senate's administrative associate. Currently, no system is in place to disclose how many students, staff and faculty have the virus.
“To protect the safety and well-being of our broader community, 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 resolution comes as UM and colleges around the country balance keeping student information private and informing campus communities what the severity of the coronavirus is on their campus.
The Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate drafted the resolution at its first semester meeting. Since the first full faculty meeting isn’t slated until September, the committee sent the resolution electronically to members and confirmed the decision by over a two-thirds majority.
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.
The Faculty Senate added that the public numbers of coronavirus cases are needed to help inform students’ decisions on whether or not they are comfortable going to campus or attending in-person classes.
“The intent of a COVID-19 UM dashboard would be to communicate and designate threshold or threat levels (e.g. localized, caution, warning) to help the community to understand and participate in decision making regarding when/if a transition to partially or fully remote instruction is necessary,” the resolution said.
As of now, the University and Missoula City-County Health Department have not released the number of students who have tested positive. According to Missoula Health Promotion Officer Cindy Farr, the Curry Health Center sends daily updates to the health department for how many tests their lab performs, as well as if a student tests positive.
Farr confirmed in a YouTube video Wednesday, Aug. 26, that the health department does keep track of the information privately.
“Cases associated with the University of Montana will not be reported specifically apart from our other numbers, as we do not generally report a case associated with any particular location,” Farr said. “Internally we are tracking those cases associated with the University so we have a clear overall picture with what's happening with COVID in our community. If cases associated with the University begin to skew our data we will certainly address that publicly.”
This story will be updated as new information arises.