CONWAY, S.C. (WMBF) - Across the country, concerns have been raised regarding information universities are disclosing about COVID-19 cases.
WMBF Investigates spoke with those tasked with coordinating Coastal Carolina University’s response to the pandemic and presenting vital information to the public via a weekly-updated dashboard.
When comparing datasets shared by CCU with schools both in the Sunbelt Conference and around the U.S., certain factors are missing that are correlated with testing. But university officials said there’s more to assessing the health of campus than by just looking at testing numbers.
Some schools have taken the route of surveillance testing, but this is not the case for CCU. Carissa Medeiros, CCU’s emergency management director, said they aligned themselves with DHEC’s recommendations to focus on symptomatic testing instead.
“As we were planning for our comeback to campus, testing was a big question mark," Medeiros said. “Unlike other larger universities all over the nation that may be medical centers, where they have more resources and capabilities, we’re more of a smaller institution. And so we rely on DHEC to kind of guide our steps when it comes to testing.”
Percent positivity rates depend on results reported from COVID-19 tests, with both positive and negative readings. That information is not being gathered by the university.
“Where we’re not providing things, it’s not because we’re trying to keep it secret,” explained Dr. Stephen Borders, an associate professor who developed and updates CCU’s COVID-19 dashboard. “But again - because of the challenges in actually reporting it in a way that we’re confident in that number.”
“Those particular cases that are getting reported in are only positive cases," said Medeiros. “We’re not asking for every single person in the university community to report when they go get a test. So when we report out our positive numbers on our website, on our dashboard, you see one number.”
Medeiros said they’re looking at other information as well that could potentially fill in those gaps left with limited testing in their efforts to assess the campus' overall health.
One of those measures is tracking the number of students living on campus who undergo the process of isolating after testing positive, or quarantine after being exposed to the virus.
“There’s this whole process that really enables us to have infection containment measures,” said Medeiros. “That’s exactly what we’re trying to do - is contain that infection.”
When comparing CCU with other schools in the Sunbelt Conference, only a few other schools have been noticed to report the number of students isolating. CCU appears to be the only school tracking the number of students who simply quarantine.
“We thought that having that on the dashboard would also help the entire university community - so our students, our faculty, our staff - have a sense of confidence in the fact that the university is taking steps to take care of our students," Medeiros explained, "but also be confident in the fact that they understand the health of the campus.”
CCU officials said being transparent and accessible with this information is important to them so that the university community can make better decisions. On Friday, CCU rolled out a new dataset that tracks the number of new positive cases reported each week, instead of only reporting the week’s positive cases reported, and the university’s cumulative total.
The new metric is able to document weekly increments from weeks in the past and will continue to track these future numbers as they’re added.
CCU staff said incorporating further data in their reporting would be a welcomed decision, so long as they can feel confident in the accuracy of the numbers.
“As we continue to go through this pandemic and respond on campus -- if there are additional areas where we feel confident that we can share information - we will absolutely take that step," Medeiros said.