University of Montana officials say they'll continue discussions over the best way to release information about positive cases of COVID-19 on campus. That position came in a statement released after some faculty members complained the university was withholding important health information.
UM President Seth Bodnar says it's "important" to him the campus community has the information they need to manage risk. But he says the problem is, the university only has access to a limited scope of case information, reported from screening at the Curry Health Center.
UM believes the total campus case info is best handled by the Missoula City-County Public Health Department.
“And as the County is talking about how best to communicate about University-specific or University affiliated cases, we think that that is going to be a more accurate count, of course, and one that really people can look to in the context," explained UM Director of Communications Paula Short.
"Not just of our University, but of Missoula County trends and community trends and really get a better idea of how COVID-19 is impacting our greater community," she added.
Short says it boils down to patient privacy laws, which limit the case information that the University of Montana has access to.
“People can choose where they seek medical care and where they seek testing for COVID. And then of course because of appropriate privacy laws -- which I think we agree in are certainly beneficial for keeping medical information confidential. But there [is] the other side of that coin is access to broader levels of data can be a real challenge.”
UM will continue discussions with the local health department on ways to "parse" campus-specific case info.
“Understandably, people want to have information and I think as we work with Missoula City-County, we want to be able to provide information that is accurate information that's comprehensive and information that can really equip people with knowledge so that they can, you know, make decisions on how best to mitigate their own risk for COVID-19," Short told MTN News.
Montana State University is following a similar track, leaving the release of case information about MSU up to Gallatin County health officials.