MU briefly consults Columbia/Boone County Health Department for COVID-19 dashboard before release

County Health Department Assistant Director Scott Clardy thinks it would be beneficial to track the positivity rate among MU students.

Prior to releasing its COVID-19 data dashboard Aug. 24, MU sought approval from the Columbia/Boone County Department of Health and Human Services.

MU provided the health department with only a mock-up of what the dashboard would look like before launching the site, which was later approved. Communication between MU and the department was primarily through email, the county health department’s assistant director Scott Clardy said.

“That was really the extent of it,” Clardy said. “We had conversations with them where we … agreed with them, that our info hub is really the official information for the county and the city. And we agreed with that, that this was kind of a subset … that they would develop on their own.”

Liz McCune, associate director of the MU News Bureau, said in an email that the university’s dashboard was created with input from the COVID Executive Group. This organization meets daily to discuss the status of the university as it relates to the pandemic. The university’s communications division manages the entire Show Me Renewal website, where the COVID-19 dashboard is located.

As of Sept. 5, the MU dashboard lists only active and recovered student, faculty and staff cases, as well as the percentage of the student body infected. Knowing the positivity rate among students would be helpful, Clardy said, but he noted that that information would be difficult to calculate.

Because the county health department reports results by age group, that data is used to represent the student population of the county, even though it represents more than students. Clardy said that it would be beneficial if there was a way for the department to track only MU student cases for the positivity rate, but he does not believe that such a method exists at this time.

“That’s certainly not a problem with the university, that’s not their fault, I just don’t believe that we have those kinds of markers on the data,” Clardy said.

On the MU dashboard, the data about student cases, percent of student body infected and number recovered is all based on “cases tested and confirmed at the MU Student Health Center and other testing locations in Boone County, as identified by Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services and shared with the university,” according to the site.

MU requires students who receive a positive COVID-19 test to self-report their case to the university within four hours of receiving their results. However, the university is not reporting the number of self-reported cases because they know that not everyone will report their case online, McCune said in an email.

McCune also said that MU continues to receive feedback about the dashboard and adjusts the data they provide based on that feedback.

“Although we have added more information since it first launched, such as faculty and staff who have tested positive, we continue to refer individuals who want a full picture of COVID data to Columbia/Boone County Health and Human Services,” McCune said. “As the public health agency for Columbia and the county, the health department is the clearinghouse for the most comprehensive data on local cases.”

However, MU freshman Meghan Lee said that she would like to see more comprehensive information available on MU’s dashboard.

“I definitely would like to see how many people they are testing, just so I can get a feel for how many people have been in contact with possible people who are spreading it,” Lee said. “It would also be helpful to know where the clusters are. It would help me make decisions about my own safety.”

Lee also compared MU’s dashboard to those at other universities, which include the positivity rate, not just the percentage of the entire population. Lee thinks that this would be useful at the MU campus.

For example, the University of North Carolina at Chapel-Hill’s COVID-19 dashboard features the weekly student positivity rate, capacity of quarantine and isolation rooms for on-campus students, the number of confirmed cases in residence halls, availability of community protective equipment and more.

“I definitely think that Mizzou could be more transparent in the way they present the information,” Lee said. “That would make me feel a lot safer.”

In response, McCune said in an email that MU is continuing to evaluate the dashboard on the Show Me Renewal website.

“Columbia/Boone County Health and Human Services continues to be the primary source of information on COVID cases in our community,” McCune said. “The county is overseeing all contact tracing and provides detailed information on its site about our entire community.”

Edited by Lucy Caile

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