Four weekdays into the start of fall classes, Texas A&M has launched its COVID-19 dashboard and released data regarding the presence of the virus among A&M students, faculty and staff.
Since Aug. 2, 407 total cases of COVID-19 have been self-reported to the university, with 358 of these cases coming the week of Aug. 16. A&M Provost and Executive Vice President Carol Fierke addressed this recent increase in a university-wide email.
“As students have returned, we are seeing an increase in COVID-19 diagnoses in this population and in the community,” Fierke said. “Texas A&M understands the importance of COVID-19 testing and the critical nature of sharing data with the Aggieland community.”
On A&M’s first day of class on Aug. 19, 22 students self-reported testing positive for COVID-19. In the three days following, 265 students reported positive test results: 51 on Aug. 20, 101 on Aug. 21 and 113 on Aug. 22. There is currently no data available for the days succeeding Aug. 22.
Fierke said the university will update the dashboard weekly, “though data [is] being monitored daily by our health experts and administration.”
A&M Chief Risk and Compliance Officer Kevin McGinnis said main updates to the dashboard will be input on Mondays with some data updated throughout the week.
The university is receiving the data from two sources, the self-reported positive cases and the results from on-campus testing, McGinnis said.
At this time, there is no system in place to ensure individuals who take multiple tests are not double-counted in the dashboard, Director of Student Health Services Dr. Martha Dannenbaum said.
“There may be duplication of individuals over the course of several weeks,” Dannenbaum said. “They may have had a test and then three days later were told they were in close contact with somebody [with COVID], so then, five days later from that, they get another test. So this is just the raw number of tests, it's not the unique individuals that have taken a test.”
The Brazos County Health District contacts those who test positive to ensure they are not counted twice in the numbers they report and make sure they are positive, Dannenbaum said.
The current total positivity rate at A&M is 12.9 percent and was 16.89 percent the week of Aug. 16. In May, the World Health Organization said rates of positivity should remain at 5 percent or lower for at least 14 days in order for the reopening of states to be considered safe.
McGinnis said there is currently no positivity rate that would make all classes shift online because “it depends upon lots of variables.”
“We don’t want to pigeon hole this into the box that says if we hit 17 percent we’re going to close down,” McGinnis said. “It just depends on severity, it depends on the outbreak amongst campus members that aren’t students.”
McGinnis said the university does not currently have plans to report groups of infected individuals, or hot spots.
“We have not, to date, tracked that, because we have not had an issue,” McGinnis said. “We do have beds set aside in housing for quarantine and that sort of thing; over 200 hundred and we’ve only used [about] 10 of them so far. We do not see that demand on resources. If resources were to get tight, perhaps we’d include that. We by no means think this will be the end of the dashboard unless we see the end of COVID, but we know that's not the case. So we will update it with other things, we will update it as we move forward.”
McGinnis said these numbers are meant to be used as a record of the virus rather than for public use.
“Our data was created to assist in the epidemiology side,” McGinnis said. “It was not created to provide us information for public consumption.”