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MU Begins Fall Semester With More Than 160 Confirmed COVID-19 Cases

Sebastián Martínez Valdivia
A sign on the University of Missouri campus reminds students to practice social distancing.

More than 160 students at the University of Missouri have tested positive for COVID-19, according to numbers MU published Monday afternoon. 

The university's online dashboard shows 168 students have tested positive since August 19. 159 are considered active cases.

According to MU spokesperson Christian Basi, university officials are monitoring more metrics than are included in the dashboard. Basi said MU consulted with health experts about what information to release. 

About half of the university’s courses this semester are meeting in person, with a third fully online and the remainder a mix of the two. Basi said the decision of whether or not to move all classes online won't just depend on the number of people who test positive. “We don’t want to pin down ourselves to a single statistic or a single number. We’re looking at I believe close to two dozen different factors,” Basi explained. 

In an interview on Monday afternoon, Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services assistant director Scott Clardy said university officials hadn't consulted with his department in depth about displaying COVID-19 data. "It's basically just a table with three tiles, the last I saw of it," Clardy said. 

One statistic health departments across the state have released that's absent from MU's COVID-19 dashboard is the positivity rate among students. That rate refers to what percentage of people tested have tested positive, and is a key statistic for assessing viral transmission. Basi said the university can't report that statistic because it doesn't have a clear picture of how many students have been tested, overall. 

"Testers do not ask 'Are you a student?' when giving a test," Basi explained in an email. "So, if a student gets a test anywhere other than the Student Health Center (and even then, they are giving tests to family members of students), we do not have an accurate calculation of total tests given to students."

The university did consult with the health department extensively, Clardy said, on control of information about students testing positive. Clardy said they agreed that the health department wouldn't provide statistics on students testing positive, and instead only publish age groups, and other demographic information.

"If folks, whether it be media or anybody wants more information about what's occurring on any particular campus or in any particular school district, we're going to refer them to that campus or school district," Clardy said. 

The way tests are reported to the university, Clardy said, is the lab that runs the tests contacts the city/county health department first. The department then inputs those results into a computer system it shares with campus health officials, and the department flags students who have tested positive. Campus officials then manage the case investigation and contact tracing from that point on. 

Boone County has seen a spike in confirmed COVID-19 cases over the past week, with three record-breaking single-day increases in a row. The county reported 258 new cases from Sunday, August 16 to Friday, August 21, with a majority of new cases coming in people between the ages of 20 and 24. Going into Monday, the county had just under 2,000 confirmed cases in total, including six deaths. 

Sebastián Martínez Valdivia was a health reporter at KBIA and is documentary filmmaker who focuses on access to care in rural and immigrant communities. A native Spanish speaker and lifelong Missouri resident, Sebastián is interested in the often overlooked and under-covered world of immigrant life in the rural midwest. He has a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Missouri and a master's degree in documentary journalism at the same institution. Aside from public health, his other interests include conservation, climate change and ecology.