University of Montana shifts COVID-19 priorities

University of Montana Campus Winter Snow
UM Campus Students Winter
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UM Vaccine Clinic
Posted at 10:35 PM, Feb 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-03 11:16:45-05

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.

UM Campus Students Winter
The University of Montana has changed its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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.

UM Vaccine Clinic
The wide availability of COVID-19 vaccines and the less severe omicron variant is changing perceptions on the UM campus.

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.

UM Campus Social Distance Seat
Coronavirus has become routine for UM and now, the focus of their COVID-19 response team is shifting.

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.

University of Montana Campus Winter Snow
The University of Montana main campus in Missoula

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.

UM Nurse
The number of COVID-19 cases associated with UM is monitored by the Missoula City-County Health Department.

“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

To date, a total of 1,453 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed on the UM campus.