School opening

Masked students arrive at Riverside Middle School as Billings schools open Monday morning. Content Exchange

As schools, universities, and county public health departments have inconsistently reported COVID-19 cases linked to educational institutions, Montana officials are creating a database that will report those cases. 

Gov. Steve Bullock announced the move during Wednesday's Board of Regents meeting. He had previously said the public should know about cases linked to schools, but declined to criticize policies like those in Yellowstone County, where neither county health officials nor public schools officials has released data, instead asking a district court judge to rule on the issue

The database will include how many students and staff have tested positive in schools larger than 50 students, Bullock said, and only generally note positive cases for schools with between 11 and 50 students. The database won't have data for schools with 10 students or fewer. 

The first update is expected to be available later Wednesday. 

He told regents the data could play a role in rumor control. He cited a rumor around Helena that Carroll College had 50 positive cases among out-of-state students that weren't included in resident tallies. Carroll College president John Cech told him there were actually two positive cases, he said. 

“It also quells some of the talk that could be out there,” Bullock said. 

Positive cases have cropped up in schools and universities across Montana. Some K-12 schools have temporarily closed, then reopened, but no schools or universities have completely reversed in-person openings. 

That hasn't held true across the nation. Several universities like Notre Dame and the University of North Carolina have reverted to online-only classes, and many K-12 urban districts started the school year with online-only classes.

Preventing cases from spreading through schools is a pillar of in-person reopening plans for Montana. 

Great Falls High School faces one of the largest documented challenges in Montana, where 10 students or staff have tested positive for COVID-19, as have four others in the district, the Great Falls Tribune reported Monday. That's led to extensive quarantine orders and shuttered schools for two days. 

While case loads in Billings remain unclear, several children have tested positive; according to Wednesday's statewide COVID-19 update, 14 cases were among children under the age of 10 in Yellowstone County. Since Sept. 9, the county has reported 35 COVID-19 cases in those 19 or younger. 

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