BOZEMAN – Montana State University will begin providing COVID-19 tests to asymptomatic students this week and for the first two weeks of classes, which start Monday.

Asymptomatic testing will be available for students living on campus through the university’s Student Testing Center, which has been operating since last fall to test students who show symptoms of the coronavirus. The center is on the east side of Bobcat Stadium. Symptomatic and asymptomatic students will be kept apart from each other at the testing center.

“We have been working since November to find ways expand asymptomatic testing specifically targeted at our students living in on-campus residence halls across the campuses of the Montana University System,” said Brock Tessman, deputy commissioner of academic, research and student affairs with the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education in Helena.

“We have come up with a solution that uses existing state resources and can be used across the system,” Tessman said. “It is one more tool the campuses can use to help reduce the risk of virus transmission. It is not a silver bullet, but it adds to the steps we continue to take which include requiring masks on all our campuses, social distancing in classrooms and providing symptomatic testing as well as quarantine and isolation housing.”

The testing is being targeted to students living in on-campus residence halls because of the density of their housing.

“As much as we would like to be able to test every student, our resources are limited, particularly our human staffing resources. Targeting students living in residence halls is the best use of these tests,” Tessman said.

Tessman noted that, on MSU’s campus, the testing will be carried out by the same health care staff that has been testing students with symptoms and who are now preparing for the distribution of vaccines.

“Our campus health care staffs have been bearing a heavy load. What we’re doing this spring is adding to things to their work: asymptomatic testing and vaccine preparations — it’s a heavy lift,” Tessman said.

“We’re incredibly grateful to our university medical staff for taking this on,” said Waded Cruzado, MSU president. “They have had our student’s best interests in their hearts through this whole pandemic, and they continue to amaze me with their commitment.”

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services and has approved the use of the rapid test kits for the state’s campuses, which provide results in 15 to 30 minutes. Montana was provided the tests by the federal government, which purchased more than 150 million for use nationwide. DPHHS is providing the campuses the tests from its supply.

At MSU, the tests will be used for the first two weeks of classes to identify the presence of COVID-19 among asymptomatic students. Those who test positive will then be quarantined for 10 days so they do not spread the virus to others.

“We’re very grateful for our partnership with DPHHS and other statewide leaders for assisting the system with this option for re-entry testing at the start of the spring semester,” Tessman said. “By working together with the state, we’ve been able to bring a lot of resources to bear at our campuses.”