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MSU Billings launches student COVID-19 testing lab

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Posted at 10:35 AM, Jan 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-26 12:43:21-05

(Editor Note: MSU Billings Press Release)

BILLINGS - Montana State University Billings Student Health Services (SHS) constructed a new COVID-19 testing lab this past winter break to enhance mitigation and testing efforts for the campus community.

The lab will test symptomatic MSU Billings students to ensure health and safety protocols, such as quarantine and/or isolation, and contact tracing are established quickly to keep the university population healthy and safe.

In addition to testing symptomatic students, the lab will also assist with surveillance testing of student athletes and other student populations as deemed appropriate.

Various types of COVID-19 tests are available from many different locations and providers in the Billings area; however, the testing lab will use a rapid antigen test with Sofia SARS immunofluorescence technology. Rapid antigen tests are designed to detect proteins from the virus that causes COVID-19 in respiratory specimens such as nasal swabs. Antigen tests are very specific to the virus but are not as sensitive as molecular tests (PCR tests) which means that a positive result is highly accurate, but a negative result does not rule out infection.

MSUB Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics, David Butler, Ph.D., serves as the lab director and has overseen the lab configuration and testing process.

“The rapid antigen tests take about 20 minutes from nasal swab to result, which will help move COVID-19- positive students into isolation faster and allow our contact tracers to immediately notify close contacts,” said Butler.

Recent MSUB graduate Cody Walters has been hired as a lab assistant and will be spearheading the student testing process with Butler.

Starting Tuesday, the lab will begin beta COVID-19 testing MSUB staff. Beta testing will allow the lab staff to practice the testing workflow and make adjustments as necessary to streamline the process. Rapid antigen COVID-19 testing will be available to all symptomatic MSUB students starting in mid-February.

Students should call Student Health Services prior to getting tested and will receive more information on scheduling their tests next month.

Additional changes that occurred over winter break were enhancing on-campus quarantine and isolation residence hall rooms with flat screen TV’s, exercise mats, and additional comfort items to ensure that students who live on campus who may need to either quarantine or isolate are as comfortable as possible.

Ten classrooms were also upgraded with high-tech equipment over winter break to enhance virtual learning moving forward, especially for those who have COVID-19 or are sick and cannot attend classes in person. This upgraded equipment allows MSUB to incorporate the HyFlex teaching modality in the near future which will give students the option to attend a class in-person or virtually and can shift between modalities depending on their evolving weekly schedules. No timeline is currently set for when HyFlex will be fully implemented.

“MSUB has been incredibly thoughtful on how to best put the needs of our students first during the pandemic,” said MSUB Chancellor Stefani Hicswa. “Investing in an on-campus testing lab, improving quarantine and isolation rooms, and upgrading our virtual learning technology will truly enhance the health and safety, and quality of education for our students.”