The university’s COVID-19 dashboard received a C+ rating on a COVID-19 dashboard grading system created by health officials from various national institutions, but the university recently included more information like testing positivity rates and total case counts.
According to ratecoviddasboard.com, a site created by health officials, graduate students and undergraduate students from Harvard University, Yale College, Baylor University and The Ohio State University, UNT’s dashboard received a C+ on a grading scale that goes from A++ to F. However, the grade has not been updated since the university has added new information to the dashboard.
The university’s previous COVID-19 dashboard only included positive, active cases separated by whether the individual was a student or staff member, and whether the individual had direct or indirect campus contact. Since then, university officials updated the site to include a graph of weekly cases, an overall case count, a table and graph for surveillance testing, which includes how many positive cases the university receives in their random testing to monitor asymptomatic cases, and a table and graph for clinical testing, or how many students who have symptoms or are identified as close contacts test positive for the virus.
“Many schools and universities are being forced to make difficult decisions,” said Ayotomiwa Ojo, Dual MD/MPP candidate at Harvard University and one of the creators of ratecoviddashboard.com. “What needs to happen in order for students and staff and surrounding communities to be kept safe. These dashboards offer that information. […] The more complete the information is, the better decisions can be made. Not only by university leaders but also local leaders and public health officials to make sure that schools are making the best decision for their students, family and staff.”
On ratecoviddashboard.com, 88 universities received a grade of B+ or above, 46 universities received a grade of B and 71 universities received a B- or below, including UNT.
Ojo said sometimes universities may be unknowing of the benefits of including sufficient data on their dashboard, or they may be worried about their public image.
“I don’t think [the withholding of information] is even intentional sometimes,” Ojo said. “Maybe they don’t realize how helpful it is for the community to know the information that they have. In some cases maybe they’re not tracking it. They may not wan to show to their communities that they’re not where they need to be.”
The university received a zero on the site in the following categories: Updated Daily, City/County data, Frequency of Testing, Test Result Time, Isolation/Quarantine data and Campus Summary.
Ojo said it is important for universities to report on county data and work with public health officials to include themselves in the community and receive the help they may need from the local government.
“Being able to provide the data to get an A+ or even an A++ means meticulous tracking of data, so really following and monitoring how many tests are we conducting, contact tracing, how many students are isolating, how many are quarantining, and then posting about it,” Ojo said. “Being in contact with public health officials and understanding what is going on in [the university’s] surrounding community, because students don’t exist in a vacuum. Their campuses sit amongst neighborhoods, people and city residents, so making sure that information is prioritized.”
Biology sophomore Aimee Tambwe, who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this semester, said more transparency from the university would lead students to be more serious about safety protocols.
“There’s a difference between trying to keep people safe by withholding certain information and completely shielding them from the truth,” Tambwe said. “If [university officials] were to tell us what was actually going on, a lot more students would’ve taken this more seriously […] If we actually knew, would [students] be having all those gatherings?”
Associate Director of News Kris Muller forwarded the North Texas Daily‘s questions to an unnamed media representative who said the university’s dashboard is continuously being discussed and updated by administration members.
“Compared to other universities in the state and nation, UNT’s case count has been very low,” the media representative said. “We feel the numbers being reported are an accurate representation of the current status of COVID-19 on our campus […] Based on feedback from our community and actions taken by peer institutions, we created the COVID-19 dashboard at healthalerts.unt.edu. This transparency is important to university officials, and we are regularly discussing how to continue providing information that is important to our students, faculty, staff, parents and others.”
Featured Image: A sign for the UNT Student Health and Wellness Center stands outside of the building on Oct. 5, 2020. Image by John Anderson