Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said Wednesday he has found a "Montana solution" to ease the backlog for being able to get tests results processed, announcing a new partnership with Montana State University to expand surveillance COVID-19 testing for critical front-line health care personnel, essential workers and other groups.
Bullock said the state had surpassed the testing target of 60,000 tests a month, performing 62,500 over the previous four weeks. But community asymptomatic testing events had to be halted because Quest Diagnostics—the company hired by the state to process the tests—is running so far behind.
Montana State University will use four qPCR machines to do the surveillance testing at the direction of the Department of Public Health and Human Services.
“Our state lab is working with the university on the validation of their machines even as we speak. And we anticipate that the university's lab will be able to given testing live samples from 500 people per day starting as early as next week," Bullock said at a news conference in Helena.
Bullock was joined by MSU president Waded Cruzado at the conference to announce the partnership.
“Montana State has the necessary expertise among our student, faculty, and staff to run this project and to assist our state. Our researchers have poured their enthusiasm, their creativity, and their energies into making this a reality,” said Cruzado.
The university will be paid $100 for each test processed—the same agreement that had been in place with Quest.
Bullock also that a contract is being finalized with a lab out of North Carolina that will be able to run at least 1,000 tests a day.
“Surveillance testing of asymptomatic individuals is a powerful tool in helping slow the spread of the virus in our Montana communities,” said Bullock.
Bullock said there will be a delay to some upcoming community snapshot testing events, but that the goal is still to get back to 60,000 tests a month in the state in the future.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock announced Wednesday that the state is partnering with Montana State University to expand surveillance COVID-19 testing for critical front-line health care personnel, essential workers and other groups.
The governor's office said in a press release that MSU researchers will have the capacity to test 500 people per day and will begin surveillance testing next week.
“Surveillance testing of asymptomatic individuals is a powerful tool in helping slow the spread of the virus in our Montana communities,” 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.”
The release said The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) will determine the Montana populations that 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 perform the surveillance testing, as directed by the health department.
Major General Matthew Quinn leads the Governor’s Coronavirus Task Force and said the asymptomatic testing is an important step in detecting and responding to asymptomatic individuals who test positive for COVID-19.
“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 Major General Quinn.
Gov. Bullock also confirmed Montana 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.
Watch the full news conference below: