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About 60 schools in Montana have had at least one case of COVID-19 in a student or staff member since school started, Gov. Steve Bullock said Wednesday.

In K-12 schools specifically, 51 of the 147,000 students in Montana have tested positive for COVID-19.

The data is part of a new weekly update from the Department of Public Health and Human Services.

The update will include information about public and private schools and will be posted on the DPHHS website on Wednesdays.

For schools with more than 50 students, the number of students who have tested positive, the number of staff who have tested positive and the school name will be reported. For schools with between 11 and 50 students, the combined number of positive students and staff along with the school name will be reported. No data will be released on schools with fewer than 11 students.

“It’s critically important that we’re transparent for teachers, staff and parents, while also at the same time following privacy requirements,” Bullock said in a call with reporters.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen, a Republican seeking reelection, criticized Bullock’s announcement on Wednesday in a series of tweets.

“Montana’s many rural schools have few students and staff. Displaying data for these individual schools will increase the risk of exposing personally identifiable medical information,” wrote Arntzen, who is running against Democrat Melissa Romano. “I again ask the Governor to reverse this decision and display aggregate data only at the county level.”

A few weeks ago, Gallatin County began publishing weekly updates on the number of COVID-19 cases associated with Montana State University. As of Friday, there were 41 cases connected to MSU, three of which were active.

Gallatin City-County Health Officer Matt Kelley said on Friday that if there were cases associated with K-12 schools, he would include them in his weekly updates.

The Bozeman School District began classes last week using a combination of online and in-person instruction. The school board plans to decide on Monday whether to return to five days of in-person learning. Other schools in Gallatin County, including the Belgrade School District, are holding in-person classes full-time.

Schools elsewhere, including Great Falls High School, have closed temporarily due to a jump in COVID-19 cases.

“I fully anticipate we’ll have more positive cases in our schools,” Bullock said.

If Montana sees a spike this fall — whether related to schools or not — Bullock said he and his staff would take actions that prioritize public health as well as the economy.

Until there is a COVID-19 vaccine, Bullock said Montanans would have to learn to live with the virus by wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

Even though the federal government has yet to approve a vaccine, Bullock said state officials are using the process for distributing the H1N1 vaccine in 2009 to inform their plans for releasing a COVID-19 vaccine.

Montana has been working to improve testing since a backlog developed in July and the state had to halt its surveillance-testing program.

Bullock said Wednesday that surveillance testing has resumed but is not at the level it was earlier in the summer. Next week, the state plans to hold several surveillance testing events, including in Livingston and Gardiner.

The number of new COVID-19 cases in Montana last week was 160 fewer than the previous week, a 17% decrease. Bullock said there is no guarantee that cases will continue to decline and said there is “a whole lot of room for improvement.”

As of Wednesday, there were 2,104 active cases with 106 active hospitalizations in the state. Montana has had a total of 9,431 cases with 7,186 recoveries and 141 deaths.

Gallatin County has the second-highest total number of cases in the state, behind Yellowstone County.

Gallatin County’s seven-day average has remained steady for the last few weeks at about six new cases per day. As of Wednesday, the county had 41 active cases and two active hospitalizations. The county has had a total of 1,193 cases and four deaths since the first case was recorded in March.

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Perrin Stein can be reached at or at 582-2648.