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Opinion: The university needs clearer COVID-19 reporting

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Sam Ford/The Review
As a student who lives in the dorms, clear COVID-19 reporting is important and urgent to me.

BY
Senior Reporter

The university has come a long way from its first iteration of its COVID-19 dashboard. If it were a third grade science project, it looked great, but for a Tier 1 research institution, it was not up to par. 

Since then, the university has added a number of features to illustrate the spread of COVID-19 on campus — a graph that traces cases week-by-week, data regarding the number of tests performed on-campus, etc. 

Just this month, the university updated the way it showed quarantine and isolation housing occupancy, after outraged students shared their frustration about a lack of clear messaging coming from the university about quarantine and isolation guidelines. 

I acknowledge and appreciate the efforts from the university to increase transparency, but I still expect better from them. 

As a student who lives in the dorms, clear COVID-19 reporting is important and urgent to me. Knowing exactly how COVID-19 is affecting my community allows me to navigate my day-to-day activities without unnecessary confusion, fear and anxiety. 

Although the university has made leaps in its reporting, I still feel that there are huge gaps in their COVID-19 dashboard that leave me uncertain about how COVID-19 is affecting this campus. 

First, I believe the university needs to start reporting a positivity rate for university-administered tests. Other universities, like the University of Maryland, are doing this, as it does not seem to be private information. 

The university is already reporting the daily number of positive cases and the weekly number of university administered tests, but by adding a positivity rate, the university would be able to better showcase what these numbers actually mean in terms of our on-campus student population.

Along with that, the COVID-19 dashboard does not currently make it clear where the spread of COVID-19 actually is in the community, within on-campus or off-campus populations. 

Anecdotally, I have heard students accuse off-campus students for the spread, and other students accuse on-campus students. Reporting these numbers, of course, should not be an accusation of either population. However, if the university started distinguishing between the number of cases that are self-reported versus reported through university on-campus testing, it could mitigate the confusion circulating amongst students about how COVID-19 is spreading through our community. 

Lastly, the university should consider reporting COVID-19 clusters on the dashboard. By cluster, I mean a concentration of COVID-19 cases in one location. 

Students should not learn by word-of-mouth that COVID-19 may be affecting their specific residence hall more than others. The university should present clear messaging to confirm or deny whatever rumors may be spreading throughout campus about where the clusters are located so that students can respond appropriately, and at the very least, know for sure the circumstances of their living situation. 

Of course, privacy issues do factor in the decisions of colleges and universities regarding COVID-19 reporting, especially considering certain federal laws requiring health privacy and others protecting the privacy of student education records. According to The Washington Post, however, legal experts assert that this law does not apply to “withholding overall coronavirus campus data.”

However, the constant tension at this university between its private and public dual statuses may further complicate COVID-19 reporting procedures. 

Nonetheless, this campus could greatly benefit from more thorough COVID-19 reporting. 

Though our first spike of the semester may be slowing down, that does not mean another is not possible or likely in the coming weeks as the majority of this campus remains unvaccinated, and the consequences of St. Patrick’s Day festivities remain up in the air. 

Whether or not the COVID-19 situation on campus becomes as dire as it was two weeks ago, the least I feel I deserve to know as a residential student is what it means to walk out my door. 

Tara Lennon is a senior reporter for the Review. Her opinions are her own and do not represent the majority opinion of the Review’s editorial staff. She may be reached at tlennon@udel.edu.

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