UConn Addresses Misconceptions, Questions About COVID-19 Dashboard and Data

The University seal
Answers to frequently asked questions about UConn’s COVID-19 response. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

With one month and almost a quarter-million page views to its credit, UConn’s COVID-19 informational dashboard has become the go-to source for data on testing and results at UConn Storrs and its regional campuses.

The University recently updated the dashboard’s format to delineate the locations and numbers of cases, continuing and expanding its testing of residential students and launching a second phase of testing of off-campus students.

UConn launched the dashboard in August as part of its commitment to transparency in communicating data about the pandemic and the University’s work to identify potential cases and curtail spread of the virus. The dashboard tracks important information on a University-wide basis excluding UConn Health, where cases are tracked separately.

Some helpful information and frequently asked questions:

Q: Why are the numbers on UConn’s dashboard different from the ones that the New York Times has been publishing?

A: The dashboard captures all student and employee numbers starting in August from UConn Storrs and the regional campuses, excluding UConn Health.

However, the New York Times’ tracker includes almost 100 cases among front-line medical workers and other UConn Health employees who contracted the virus last spring, during the height of patient hospitalizations at UConn John Dempsey Hospital. That hospital and UConn’s medical operations are on the separate Farmington campus, miles away from any other UConn campuses, and without significant crossover among the populations.

While UConn and UConn Health are two entities under one umbrella, their core missions, workforces, and physical locations are very different. A large percentage of UConn Health’s 4,600-person workforce are medical caregivers or support staff, so their exposure to COVID-19 and other illnesses is much different than it is for students and non-medical employees on our traditional campuses.

Because their operations are unlike the rest of the institution, the dashboard avoids combining UConn Health’s numbers with the Storrs/regionals figures and inadvertently causing confusion or errors.

The University has asked the New York Times several times to better delineate the medical and non-medical cases, and to draw a distinction between current cases and those at the height of the spring hospitalizations, but the newspaper has declined to do so.

The dashboard provides the most accurate, updated information about current cases among students and employees at UConn Storrs and the regional locations at Hartford, Stamford, Waterbury and Avery Point. (The School of Law has no on-campus courses this semester and therefore no mandatory student testing; employee results from that location and other regional campuses are included in the overall employee result figures).

Q: Why doesn’t the math seem to add up on the dashboard? For instance, when starting with the number of cumulative cases minus the recovered cases, the total doesn’t equal the number in your “current positive/symptomatic cases” category.

A: It’s helpful to keep in mind that the category names are short descriptions of the groups they include, and that categorizing cases is always a matter of capturing a single point in time in what’s essentially an ever-moving flow of information.

“Cumulative residential student positive results” is straightforward, and includes all cases in which a residential student received a positive COVID-19 result and was therefore moved to an isolation space for care.

“Recovered” includes those positive cases, plus other students who were also placed in isolation spaces and treated by Student Health and Wellness (SHaW) because they were symptomatic, even in the absence of a positive test. This precaution guards against the potential for false negatives, and attempts to stop the spread of other illnesses that may be similar to COVID-19.

“Current positive/symptomatic cases” includes confirmed positive cases plus those symptomatic students with negative tests. Even though the symptomatic students receive treatment and would later be reflected in the “recovered” category, they are not be counted among the cumulative confirmed positives.

Also, to a lesser degree, some students who test positive return to their homes to isolate and recover, and therefore are added later to the “recovered” category once they are medically cleared and return to campus.

UConn does not separate the confirmed positives from the symptomatic cases in the data because all of those individuals are being treated in isolation spaces based on the potential for known or potential spread of illness. The dashboard captures one point in time each day, but the numbers also can be fluid within the span of that day based on testing, with some symptomatic or suspected cases being confirmed as positive and others remaining in the “symptomatic” category.

Q: Who’s getting tested? How do I know if I’m supposed to be tested, and where? Can students get tested even if they don’t have symptoms?

A: UConn’s approach to testing is straightforward: If a student or employee is coming to a campus because they have to be there, they should be tested. This includes faculty, staff, and commuter students on every campus, both graduate and undergraduate. The University is using several strategies to accomplish this, with more details on the University’s reopening site.

Initial re-entry tests were required for all residential students and commuters who would be on a UConn campus for at least one course. That testing phase ended Sunday, Sept. 13. However, students continue to be tested in large numbers as part of UConn’s ongoing efforts to identify, contain, and treat cases.

UConn continues to test hundreds of students regularly as part of ongoing surveillance efforts. It includes testing for randomly selected students, as well as asymptomatic on- or off-campus Storrs students who request a test as a precaution.

UConn also continues testing wastewater from several on-campus spots to assess the presence of COVID-19 virus as a way to predict and limit the potential scope of outbreak.

Working with the UConn Institute for System Genomics and MARS lab (Microbial Analysis, Research and Services), UConn Student Health and Wellness has launched a pooled sampling method that significantly increases the speed and volume of testing.

Students provide a saliva sample in a tube, which is pooled with other samples to create one large batch for testing. If the pooled sample is negative, all students in that pool are deemed negative; if it is positive, the students in the pool are tested individually.

UConn Human Resources provides detailed information

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