Ohio University’s reworked COVID-19 dashboard was awarded an A rating and top-tier placement in a group of Yale University professors’ ranking of more than 200 university dashboards across the county.
The dashboard, created by the OU Office of Institutional Research alongside Dr. Gillian Ice, special assistant to OU President Duane Nellis for public health operations and a Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine faculty member, was ranked the 17th best in the nation on the Yale professors’ list. It earned praise from the group, who work under the pseudonym “We Rate Covid Dashboards,” for its ease of reading, the amount of data presented and its inclusion of county data, among others.
Though, the dashboard could have scored higher if it were updated daily and provided a summary on the state of the pandemic on campus, according to the professors’ rating scheme.
“It’s kind of like winning a gold medal in the geek Olympics. So, we’re very excited,” Loralyn Taylor, associate provost of institutional research, said Thursday to the OU Board of Trustees of their accomplishment.
Since its uneven launch in early September, OU’s dashboard has dramatically widened the scope of the data offered and received updates to its presentation. It’s expected to keep evolving over time, Ice said Thursday at the Board of Trustees’ meeting.
The dashboard originally presented what Winfried Just, an OU professor who studies the transmission of infectious diseases, called a “confusing” combination of two separate datasets.
It initially included both counts of self-reported symptomatic cases to its COVID-19 hotline operated by OhioHealth and a count of cases self-reported through incident forms. Cases found through incident reports likely overlapped with positive cases found through the hotline, creating confusion about which dataset provided a more accurate count of cases at the university.
While the dashboard still includes data collected through the hotline, it’s since scrapped the case count self-reported through incident reports. In its place is now an entirely new section dedicated to reporting the results of the mostly random daily asymptomatic testing conducted in partnership with CVS Health, and an accompanying positivity rate to help gauge the virus’ presence among both students and staff in the Athens community. It’s also been expanded to include more detailed information on students quarantining and self-isolating off-campus.
The dashboard is still under development and will likely be updated regularly as the university is able to collect more data.
Ice said she expects the university’s asymptomatic testing capacity to expand from 150 tests conducted each day to about 230 in the coming weeks, which is well above the state’s recommendation. Conducting more tests, she said, should reduce the university’s asymptomatic testing positivity rate, which sits around 7.7 percent as of Tuesday.
The university more recently began conducting what Ice called “wide-net” asymptomatic in addition to the randomized testing already being done. Wide-net testing involves, for example, testing multiple students living on the same residence hall floor after a few positive results were discovered within the dorm, she said.
They’re actively considering wastewater testing, which several cities across the state use to detect virus cases at sewage treatment plants, but Ice said she fears they would have a difficult time pinpointing exactly which building a positive case came from since most dorms’ waste flows to the same location.
Ice said the Athens City-County Health Department often notes in their weekly meetings with the university that the majority of cases reported in the county among the 20-29 age group — the group that’s recorded the vast majority of positive cases in Athens since the pandemic began — are OU students.
While the local health department doesn’t specify in its reports that positive cases are among students, Ice said she and the university are trying to determine if that can be changed.
In her public health update last week, Ice said that 95 percent of known student cases were among those who live off-campus. She said her team suspects between seven to 10 thousand total students are currently living in Athens based on conversations with landlords and records of who logged onto the university’s network since late August. They also believe based on anecdotal evidence that students are frequently traveling between Athens and their hometowns across the state.