U.S. Sen. Steve Daines visited the Montana State University-Billings campus on Friday to tour the COVID-19 testing and Military and Veteran Success Center. According to university student health services director Darla Tyler-McSherry, the former office space used for the testing center took just 30 days to be converted.
The testing site will be used to test student athletes before competitions, which is required by NCAA guidelines, and to test students showing symptoms of COVID-19. The testing center uses drive-thru style service. Students can walk up to the window, where they will meet a nurse, self-swab, and have their tests submitted to the lab for results.
Dave Butler, clinical testing director for the university, said Friday morning that the antigen tests they use are 95 percent accurate, and the results are quick.
“It takes about 20 minutes from swab to results. If a symptomatic student comes in, they get to know right away. With athletics testing, we do about 50 to 100 samples a day, so it takes several hours to work through that,” said Butler.
After taking the test, students are contacted by phone with their results. Butler said the testing center has only had one test come back positive for COVID-19 since February when the site opened. Butler credits the low number of positive cases to student efforts to wear masks at all times and keep and socially distance. McSherry said they are in the process of trying to expand the testing center with future collaborations and internship opportunities for students. She said the center is a long-term space past the pandemic.
At the Military and Veteran Success Center, Daines spoke with Shane Grantham, interim director, and Eric Brown, certifying official, about efforts to ensure the educational success of veterans on campus and create an area to share their stories.
“We have about 170 military-related and military veterans, which is about 6 percent of the campus population. It is a great honor to have him (Daines) come by and see what we are doing for veterans. He is going to take a message home with him and hopefully make life better for all of us,” said Brown.
Brown said that at this time they are hoping to get new furniture for the center and give it a new look. Classes ended on Friday for students, so the staff is not expecting to see any veterans in the coming weeks, but Brown said he is hoping they come back.
Before Daines left the campus, he told MTN that he is working on joint efforts to encourage Montanans to get the vaccine.
“I spoke with Senator (Jon) Tester and we talked about doing a joint public service announcement. We don’t always agree on everything but one that we do agree on, is all Montanans should be looking to get the vaccine," he said.