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Here’s how other universities are publicly reporting COVID-19 cases, vaccination rates

<p>The University of Florida.</p>

The University of Florida.

Even as COVID-19 cases spike around the country due to the Omicron variant, several universities are relaxing their case reporting protocols and disclosing less information on their public online dashboards. 

The University of Florida stopped reporting case counts on their dashboard beginning Dec. 31. On Jan. 6, Michael Lauzardo, chief of the division of infectious diseases and global medicine at the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute, published an update announcing that the university would transition the COVID-19 response from an on-campus task force to an effort run by the Florida Department of Health.

Lauzardo wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post that he had “lost confidence that [UF’s COVID-19 case totals] bore any relation to reality.” Many students and staff opted for at-home rapid testing rather than going to the university’s testing center, didn’t report symptoms or evaded testing altogether, leading Lauzardo to determine that the statistics were inaccurate.

“You can’t make good decisions by looking at incomplete or misleading numbers,” he wrote.

Lauzardo also argued that COVID-19 is moving from the epidemic phase to the endemic phase, in which vaccinated people are less likely to get infected and far less likely to become seriously ill. Therefore, tracking case numbers is no longer as important as tracking hospitalization and vaccination rates.

West Virginia University has stopped publishing COVID-19 case data online for several weeks. Their archived dashboard says that on-campus testing and reporting was paused on Dec. 19.

At the start of the spring semester, WVU opted to forgo entry or surveillance testing in favor of providing all on-campus and hybrid students and employees with free, at-home rapid tests, according to a report from WVU Today. The university also planned to update vaccination rates every two weeks instead of testing numbers. 

Testing data “became less informative for our health and safety experts as they believe hospitalization rates and vaccination status are better indicators at this time,” wrote April Kaull, WVU’s executive director of communications, in an email to The Daily Athenaeum.

This decision was criticized by the WVU community. A Twitter poll from The Daily Athenaeum asked users whether they agreed with the decision to stop sharing testing data, to which 79.7% of respondents voted no. 

The West Virginia Higher Ed Solidarity network tweeted that the decision was “an unjustified & cynical decision” in the midst of a surge in cases and hospitalizations.

In response, WVU decided to resume reporting testing and isolation data starting Jan. 14, citing the need for transparency.

Cornell University has modified their online dashboard to primarily highlight a color-coded risk assessment system instead of case counts. The case numbers are still being updated daily, but are found towards the bottom of the website.

The risk levels are categorized as green, yellow and red. Under a green alert, the transmission of COVID-19 is low on campus, so surveillance testing is reduced, and on-campus facilities, events and travel operate normally. As risk increases to yellow or red, the university will change their procedures to encourage increased distancing and testing. As of Sunday evening, the dashboard is broadcasting a yellow risk alert.

“Our plan recognizes that the emergence of the highly transmissible omicron variant makes full containment impossible,” Cornell President Martha Pollack wrote in an update to the university community. “We must develop strategies that enable us to learn to live with the virus.”


Anisha Reddy | Senior Editor

Anisha Reddy is a Trinity junior and a senior editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.

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