COLUMN: #CampusClear app will not stop COVID-19 spread on campus

The addition of #CampusClear checkpoints around campus is the university’s attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19, but this method will likely not be as effective as it hopes.
Graphic by Nick Prainito

Sydney Lewis is a first-year journalism and political science major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about politics and identity for The Maneater.

When the fall semester began, students were instructed to download the #CampusClear app, which clears students to be on campus based on COVID-19 symptoms listed in the app. For the first several weeks, students were not required to download or use the app on a daily basis, making it useless during that time.

Eventually, the university set up checkpoints at MizzouRec, Ellis Library and, most recently, the MU Student Center. At each of these entrances, students are expected to show the message that indicates they’re cleared to be on campus.

The app gives students several symptoms and exposure options to choose from. If students report one or more symptoms, they are not cleared to be on campus. Though the app has good intentions, it is flawed.

Most symptom options on the app start with “unusual or unexplained,” such as “unusual or unexplained fatigue.” This wording is so vague that it’s hard to differentiate between symptoms of COVID-19 or another possible illness.

The app also says to “only select symptoms that are new, unusual or unexplained rather than those associated with health conditions you regularly experience.” This leaves room for discrepancies and allows students to select “no symptoms” when they could have symptoms of COVID-19.

Furthermore, there is no incentive for students to tell the truth about symptoms they experience. It would be naive to give college students the benefit of the doubt and trust they accurately report symptoms when they arise. Sick students who are worried about missing a class or exam would have incentive to lie about their symptoms on the app. If students feel under the weather, there is no way for the university to verify they’re telling the truth on their submission. All sick students have to do is go on the app, select “no symptoms” and they can get into every building with ease.

If students aren’t accurately reporting their symptoms and exposure to COVID-19, the university is operating off skewed data. Their information is not complete, and the COVID-19 data they have may look better than the actual situation on campus.

Campus Clear checkpoints are set up at communal locations with heavy student traffic. However, these buildings aren’t vital for students. Students utilize them to study or work out, but they aren’t the only areas on campus where students can do those things. When students choose to do these activities elsewhere, the university never checks their app.

Students with symptoms can easily avoid those buildings or choose to lie on the app and avoid detection from the university. This affects the information MU has by about COVID-19 rates on campus.

The #CampusClear app was created to be used as part of a succinct, effective COVID-19 prevention plan, something MU does not have. The self-screening feature of the app is intended to be only one step of a multi-step plan. Physical screening, COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and vaccinations are the next steps of the plan after daily self-screening.

Physical screening, COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and vaccinations are not happening effectively at MU, which limits the effectiveness of the app.

Students who do not have the #CampusClear app get their temperature taken at the checkpoints. However, that physical screening is not in addition to use of the app, which is how it is intended to be used.

Testing at MU is inaccessible to many, and students have been asking for more options for months.

Contact tracing is backed up and is not being done efficiently enough to be effective in preventing the spread.

Using the #CampusClear app without any of the follow-up steps recommended for preventing the spread of COVID-19 renders it virtually useless.

The app boasts giving real-time information to its proctors, but none of that information has been shared with the campus community despite students calling for transparency for months. The dashboard of information the university has from the app includes “daily reports, aggregated statistics by category, overall trends and anonymous benchmarking with other schools.” This is a large amount of data the university is hiding from the campus community. There is no way for students and faculty to make smart decisions around COVID-19 without all possible information.

Despite the implementation of #CampusClear checkpoints, COVID-19 numbers on campus continue to rise. The number of active cases on campus has steadily increased since Oct. 25. About 8% of MU students have had COVID-19 as confirmed by the university since Aug. 19, and that percentage continues to increase every day.

Campus Clear is ineffective at preventing the spread of COVID-19 on MU’s campus. The implementation looks like a publicity stunt that aims to make campus feel safer than it actually is. Instead of dealing with COVID-19 by making testing widespread and accessible, increasing contact tracing and doing physical screenings, MU is using an unenforceable app that gives the community a false sense of security.

_As part of its commitment to highlighting organizations fighting for racial justice, the Maneater is encouraging readers to donate to the Solutions Not Punishment Collaborative, “a black trans and queer led organization that builds safety within our community, investing in our collective embodied leadership and building political power.” Donate at: https://www.paypal.com/donate/?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=EPH7USQP5L9RG&source=url._

Edited by Sofi Zeman | szeman@themaneater.com

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