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Montana State University opened an on-campus free COVID-19 testing site for students Thursday.

The facility, MSU Symptomatic Student Testing Center, provides free drive-through and walk-up testing for students who are showing symptoms of the novel coronavirus. Students do not need an appointment or a referral for testing.

“We’re working to make it as expedited as possible,” said Michael Becker, a university spokesman.

The white canvas tent is located near the northeast corner of Bobcat Stadium, with car access from South Seventh Avenue. Testing will be available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Becker said the site would remain in that location and the university will make adjustments based on the weather, possibly adding heating units. MSU employees and University Health Partners are staffing the clinic, he said.

As of Wednesday, there were 31 total coronavirus cases from MSU since move-in day, with nine of those still active, according to Matt Kelley, health officer with Gallatin City-County Health Department.

MSU is unable to release the number of nasal swabs, which are entered into the state Department of Public Health and Human Services testing system, Becker said.

In the university’s news release, Sam Mitchell, director of medical services at MSU’s University Health Partners, said the center is designed solely for students experiencing symptoms of the novel coronavirus.

The testing site is limited to symptomatic students because the state of Montana does not have the testing capacity for widespread testing of asymptomatic people, Mitchell said in the news release. The priority is on students with symptoms.

The university received $6.5 million in federal CARES Act funding from Montana Gov. Steve Bullock for coronavirus related spending. In addition to the testing facility, MSU plans to hire contact tracers and case managers who will work in coordination with the Gallatin City-County Health Department to focus solely on MSU cases.

Becker said the university is in the process of hiring three to five contact tracers and have them trained by the local health department. Three to five case managers will also be hired to follow up with students post-testing.

If on-campus students get tested, they need to contact their resident adviser who will coordinate on-campus quarantine housing until their test results are available, Becker said. If they test positive, they will move to on-campus isolation housing until they are no longer positive, he said.

Haley Gerow, MSU’s director of emergency management and COVID coordinator, said the health department would be notified of positive virus cases.

The university recently announced it was partnering with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services to complete coronavirus tests. But those 500 test kits are provided to the university lab anonymously from the state and will not necessarily come from students at the university, said Tracy Ellig, a university spokesman.

While the university has worked to expand its capacity to physically collect samples from symptomatic students, it does not have control over the speed of results, Ellig told the Chronicle earlier this week. After samples are collected at the MSU testing site, they are sent to the state Department of Public Health and Human Services in Helena for processing, Ellig said.

The state has averaged a turnaround time of 24 to 48 hours, Kelley said.

The health department was also working with MSU to ensure students put a local address on their test sample, which would prevent a potential positive case from getting sent to a different health department.

“The concern is if it’s an out-of-state address,” he said. “It could cause an added delay.”

Overall, he said if someone tests positive with a connection to MSU, the process remains the same. The health department is notified, contact tracing begins and MSU incident command is told if there is a possible exposure on campus.

With Labor Day approaching, Kelley advised people to think local when making plans and to keep groups small.

“We had a significant upsurge after Fourth of July last month,” he said. “It will put us in a better position headed into the school year to have a lower number of cases.”

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.