Carnegie Mellon University
October 26, 2021

Universities Should Set the Standard in COVID-19 Data Reporting

In a new paper in Issues, Engineering and Public Policy Ph.D. student Elina Hoffman, Associate Professor Valerie Karplus, and Professor Erica Fuchs argue that university reporting of COVID-19 testing data has been insufficient. 

In the article, the authors argue that because of their esteemed social position and mission of education and advancing knowledge, universities are perhaps best positioned and most capable of studying how mitigation policies can affect coronavirus spread.

At the height of the pandemic, some schools tested students up to three times per week, and some continue to test all on-campus faculty and students, or certain faculty and student populations, regularly. A study from the US Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 150% increase in testing among persons aged 18 to 22 in August 2020, “possibly related to new screening practices as colleges and universities reopened.”

However, despite their success in implementing comprehensive testing programs, the authors argue that universities’ reporting of this testing data is insufficient, both for community transparency and for the advancement of scientists’ understanding of the virus and its spread. The authors point to the lack of standards when it comes to how universities report COVID-19 data.

“To understand how the novel coronavirus behaves and how it is spread, universities should voluntarily adopt formal, rigorous standards for gathering and reporting COVID-19 test data.”

To depict universities’ on-campus COVID-19 situation transparently and accurately, the authors recommend universities' COVID-19 reports include three types of information:

  • First, the authors recommend universities publish daily time-series data on 1) asymptomatic and symptomatic tests; 2) asymptomatic and symptomatic positive cases; and 3) their population (of students, faculty, staff, and others) coming to campus. 
  • Second, they recommend that universities publish a timeline of their evolving reopening and mitigation strategies. 
  • Third, they recommended that universities add numerical data on their campus community vaccination status, including dates of vaccination and with what vaccine, to their COVID dashboards. In addition to these data, they recommended that universities continue widespread asymptomatic testing—particularly those universities that previously ramped up their capacity and may now not be using such testing. 

Visit Issues to read the full article.