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COVID on Campus: Some Schools More Transparent Than Others

Providing public access to case data has been an unwritten rule throughout the pandemic, with cities and states posting extensive case statistics and interactive charts online. Most universities followed suit, releasing their own COVID-19 dashboards to share information with the public on the status of cases in campus communities.
Having public access to information about the status of cases on campus allows students, faculty, staff and the larger community to better understand the influence of these institutions on COVID-19 in their counties.
Yet not all dashboards are created equal. Some provide in-depth detail about COVID-19 on campus throughout the semester, while others only give a snippet of the information they collect.
Indiana University launched a public dashboard Aug. 28 that was updated every Wednesday with information from the week’s testing, including the number of tests administered and weekly positivity rates.
In late September, the dashboard was given a C+ rating, later adjusted to a B-, by We Rate Covid Dashboards, a website run by a team of public health and data analytics researchers.
“That’s a horrible dashboard,” said Howard Forman, one of the site’s founders and a professor with Yale’s School of Public Health, speaking to Indiana’s campus newspaper, the Indiana Daily Student (IDS). “I mean, come on, they’re a big state university, why would they have such limited information? That’s disappointing.”
Earlier that month, amid a surge of cases, an IDS editorial called on the university to make more of its data public, arguing that the community had a right to the full suite of information the administration used to internally monitor the situation and that it should be updated each day.
After the publication of the editorial, the dashboard was modified to include information about use of the school’s quarantine and isolation facilities.
“There’s really no secret information that we have that’s not out there,” said Aaron Carroll, director of mitigation testing at Indiana University, explaining that most of the metrics used internally by the university’s Medical Response Team consults are publicly available statistics such as case numbers in surrounding areas and hospital capacities.
The University of Missouri’s dashboard has not contained the same level of detail as dashboards at other universities. It was also given a B- in early September by the rating site, and while the dashboard is updated daily, it doesn’t include metrics like testing numbers or students in isolation or quarantine housing.
MU simply isn’t collecting some types of data. The number of student tests is not a data point Missouri’s been tracking, university spokesperson Liz McCune wrote in an email.
As for student active case counts from the beginning of the term, Missouri didn’t have that on its dashboard until the end of October. And it still doesn’t include the daily case count changes for faculty, staff or students since the beginning of classes.
The University of Wisconsin’s dashboard was rated with a B+, the fifth-best in the Big 10. It launched Aug. 18 and is updated with new information daily. The dashboard includes the number of daily cases, the number of students isolating or quarantining and the total cases. Late in the fall semester, the dashboard was updated to include a “daily snapshot” to summarize all the testing information from the day before.
The University of Illinois’ dashboard also earned a B+. It lost points for not including city or county data, though Champaign County maintains its own dashboard, and for not having any quarantine or isolation data.
Reporters Gavin Good and Julia Morrison from the University of Illinois and Chris Martucci and Danielle DuClos from the University of Missouri contributed to this story.