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The latest news about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 in Montana.

UM Isn't Requiring Students To Leave Dorms, Spokesperson Says

Grizzly statue and Main Hall on the University of Montana campus in Missoula.
Josh Burnham
Montana Public Radio

The University of Montana is walking back an urgent message it sent out Sunday telling students living in dorms to go home in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus on campus.

UM students living in campus housing like Freshman Christopher Hurd received an email mostly in all caps from the university Sunday.

"It said, urgently, you should move out as soon as you can because we’re shutting down your access to the dorms Tuesday morning."

Hurd said he originally planned to hunker down in the dorms for the semester with a friend when the university announced all classes would be held online earlier this month. But after receiving several messages from the university encouraging students to go home if they could, he booked a ticket back to Illinois for this upcoming Friday. Sunday’s email changed those plans.

"So I basically could be homeless for a few days and try to just camp and get my online classes done in public areas, or I could call the airline, get a closer ticket home. That’s what I ended up doing."

University of Montana spokesperson Paula Short says the email was a mistake.

"We regret the anxiety that that caused and we subsequently sent out a clarification last night, about an hour after the first message, and we’ve continued with additional clarifications today."

Short says students who don’t have alternative housing plans will be able to remain on campus. She adds the university may ask students in shared housing units to move to an unoccupied unit in order to prevent any spread of COVID-19.

The university is still surveying how many of the roughly 1,200 students living in residence halls plan to leave. So far, 356 students have reported leaving. The university plans to prorate meal plans and housing payments for those students. Montana’s university system is encouraging all schools to do the same and expects the move will cost $14 million statewide. The university system expects an additional $4 million loss due to reduced sales and services on campuses and other fee reimbursements.

Aaron graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism in 2015 after interning at Minnesota Public Radio. He landed his first reporting gig in Wrangell, Alaska where he enjoyed the remote Alaskan lifestyle and eventually moved back to the road system as the KBBI News Director in Homer, Alaska. He joined the MTPR team in 2019. Aaron now reports on all things in northwest Montana and statewide health care.
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