Montana Public Radio

Montana Now Reporting School COVID-19 Case Numbers

Sep 16, 2020

State health officials Wednesday published information about COVID-19 cases and outbreaks in individual public grade schools and universities. The report shows that 68 of the state’s roughly 147,000 public school students have tested positive for COVID-19, along with another 96 cases in Montana's colleges and universities.

Gov. Steve Bullock said during a press conference Wednesday it’s important for parents to have the data so that they can make an informed decision about whether it’s safe for their child to attend class in person. He says to date, 60 schools, including state universities, have had a confirmed case. 

"Fortunately in most of those instances, this represents one or two cases, which were likely not acquired in the school settings. In other cases, we see some limited transmission to a relatively small number of students or staff,” Bullock said.

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services will publish weekly data on COVID-19 cases in public schools and universities statewide. 

School-Related COVID-19 cases reported in Montana by school setting and grade level, Sept. 16, 2020.
Credit Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services

The data will include case numbers in individual public school buildings. Case numbers will be broken down into student and staff categories for schools with 50 or more students. Data for schools with 11 to 49 students won’t make that distinction. The smallest schools won’t be reflected in publicly available demographic data.

Montana Office of Public Instruction Superintendent Elsie Arntzen took issue with the release of the data in a tweet, saying it could reveal individuals who’ve tested positive.

"I again ask the governor to reverse this decision and display aggregate data only at the county level," Arntzen said.

The announcement comes after some county health departments and school districts have struggled to find ways to share information about COVID-19 cases in school buildings citing federal and state privacy laws. 

Last week, Bullock and state health officials provided guidance on how information regarding confirmed and suspected cases could be shared between public health and school officials.