MISSOULA — The University of Montana tallied over 100 active COVID-19 cases on Wednesday.
Five semesters into the pandemic and this is their biggest surge yet, but students continue going to in-person classes and campus happenings haven’t hit pause.
The numbers say one thing, but the impact on campus is showing another.
“It does feel like the impact to our campus community is less severe,” said Paula Short.
Short — UM's associate vice president of campus preparedness and response — has monitored the pandemic since it first reached campus.
Even with cases on the rise, she feels that this surge is less dire than surges before.
She credits the sentiment to the virulence of the omicron variant and a widely available vaccine.
“Unbelievably, we're two years into working through a global pandemic and trying to teach our students through a global pandemic,” said Short.
The coronavirus has become routine for campus and now, the focus of their COVID-19 response team is shifting.
“Because of the case surge, we've prioritized the rapid isolation of positive cases,” said Short.
“We've not put a focus on those close contacts other than the fact that we do have expanded testing at Curry Health Center now for students and employees, and that’s new," Short continued.
UM will prioritize positive cases and loosen its grip on quarantine enforcement due to the overwhelming task of contact tracing and a milder variant running its course.
However, with a focus on the positive cases, concerns are building as to whether UM has space to house this growing number of students.
“We've got about 35 to 40 spaces, again that's very similar to last semester," Short told MTN News. "So far, we've not exceeded our capacity."
The isolation period for a positive case has dwindled from 10 days to only 5 due to updated guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
The shorter window means more students can come and go from isolation housing before it reaches capacity.
The new guidance also means more work for the housing team tasked with turning over rooms.
“That's certainly a compliment to our housing team that has this really complicated spreadsheet of students going into isolation and coming out of isolation," noted Short.
Short says they’ll turn to Plan B and have students isolate in place if UM's isolation housing reaches its capacity.
Making contingency plans has become the COVID-19 team's expertise two years into the pandemic.
“It's another layer of complexity, but it's not impossible,” said Short.
The latest case information associated with the University of Montana can be found at https://www.missoulainfo.com/copy-of-data-dashboard.
To date, a total of 1,453 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed on the UM campus.