HELENA – After pausing a relationship with testing lab Quest Diagnostics, Gov. Steve Bullock announced a new partnership between the state and Montana State University at a press conference on July 22. The partnership will allow for Montana to ramp up testing once again, including COVID-19 surveillance testing for frontline health care personnel, essential workers and other groups, according to a press release that followed the conference.
Bullock said that Montana will continue to work toward administering and processing 60,000 tests per month. MSU is currently working with the state lab to validate their machines and will have the capacity to process up to 500 tests per day using four qPCR devices as early as next week, according to Bullock. The university is also developing pooling methodology, which “combines a handful of surveillance tests into one testing run,” Bullock said, affording greater testing capacity, increasing the state’s capabilities three- to four-fold. The state will pay MSU $100 per test.
“I’m confident with MSU’s research enterprise and ingenuity. Montana will have much of its testing capacity done here in state at the university and through our state lab,” Bullock said before welcoming MSU President Waded Cruzado to the microphone.
“This is not just an issue of having the right equipment but of having the right people,” Cruzado said. “For decades, we have been building our capacity, and today, our state’s largest research institution and one of the most research-intensive universities in the region, Montana State has the necessary expertise among our students, faculty and staff to run this project and to assist our state.”
The governor also announced that the state recently finalized a contract with MAKO Medical in North Carolina, a reference lab that will process an anticipated 1,000 tests per day from Montana.
During the press conference, Bullock also shared that three months after gaining access to the $1.25 billion in COVID-19 support from the federal government, $800 million has been allocated, with $100 million being distributed through various types of grants spread across all 56 Montana counties. The relief fund is intended to last through the end of the year.
“Because we’ve held back some money, we’ve retained our ability to be flexible and react quickly when new needs are identified,” Bullock said.