COVID Dashboard photo
MU Health Services regularly posts an updated total of cases to inform students.
Photo from the Medical Alerts tab of MU’s Center for Health and Sports Medicine website

COVID Dashboard Provides Important Information on Campus Cases

 Mitchell Marks 

In addition to the preventative measures Manchester University has enacted to protect students from COVID-19, the school has also implemented tactics to monitor the spread of the virus on campus. The most prominent of these features, the MU COVID-19 Dashboard, tracks the positivity rate of Manchester-administered coronavirus tests—as well as self-reported cases— to keep students, staff and faculty updated on their safety.

Manchester created the dashboard in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and launched the program prior to the 2020 school year, according to Vice President for Student Life Abby Van Vlerah. She explained the dashboard is designed to provide a snapshot of the spread of the virus on campus while informing students, staff, faculty and community members about the school’s response to the pandemic.

The dashboard is featured under the Medical Alerts tab in the Health Services subsection of Manchester’s website. It is broken into two main sections: a weekly update on testing and an overall running tally of the same information. After each week’s coronavirus test results are received by the school, the dashboard is updated to relay the number of tests that were performed that week and provide a percentage showing how many tests were positive. The running tally portion of the dashboard details the total number of COVID tests performed at Manchester and a fluctuating positivity rate; it also includes information on self-reported positive cases from students who were tested outside the school.

Reporting the positivity rate of tested students instead of the raw number of positive cases on campus provides a more accurate depiction of the virus, Van Vlerah explained in a Sept. 28 COVID-19 Town Hall hosted by the Student Senate. “It’s not about individual cases, it’s about spread,” she said. “We want to know how much of our population is being affected, and that’s why we’re looking at it as a percentage instead of as a raw number.”

The Town Hall allowed Van Vlerah and Director of Sports Medicine Erin Foreman to answer questions regarding the COVID Dashboard, Manchester’s mask mandate, social distancing at sporting events and other coronavirus topics. In the meeting, Van Vlerah explained that the positivity rates listed on the dashboard are important indicators of the triggers that dictate whether Manchester will continue in-person classes or be required to move to a virtual setting like last spring. She said that while there is no exact positivity rate that will force classes online, the dashboard is one way the school is monitoring the health and safety of students. “We’re going to look holistically at where we are as an institution and our availability and capability to continue an in-person learning experience,” Van Vlerah said.

Van Vlerah also touched on the distinction between students in isolation and those in quarantine, explaining that the dashboard only reports on isolated students who have tested positive for the virus. Since students are being asked to quarantine if they display COVID symptoms or come into close contact with someone who has tested positive, Van Vlerah believes the number of quarantined students fluctuates too much each day to warrant inclusion on the dashboard. “You can imagine as we move into cold and flu season that more and more people are having COVID-like symptoms and being asked to quarantine,” Van Vlerah said. “It would really just be unmanageable to include in a public-facing dashboard.”

Similarly, the dashboard also includes information from the Fort Wayne campus, but only in a self-reported format. Van Vlerah explained that Manchester is not performing widespread testing at Fort Wayne because it is not a residential campus, but the campuses do share information with each other. Any self-reported positive cases from Fort Wayne are updated on the dashboard.

Protecting the health information and anonymity of students in isolation is another crucial aspect of the dashboard that is better accomplished by reporting positivity rates instead of raw cases, according to Van Vlerah. “On a campus as small as ours, it would be easy for community members to identify which individual students were affected by the virus,” she said via email. “We firmly believe that those stories are those students’ to tell, not ours.”

Van Vlerah believes the dashboard is an informative addition to Manchester’s health services that is beneficial for students and faculty. By utilizing it, students are provided with weekly updates on the spread of the virus while keeping track of Manchester’s commitment to testing. Faculty, meanwhile, are able to use the dashboard in conjunction with other sets of information to keep campus safe.

In addition to the COVID Dashboard, Van Vlerah and other Manchester employees are maintaining detailed records to preserve campus safety. “We have several different data points and sources we use to maintain and manage the pandemic on campus,” Van Vlerah said. She continued to explain that these resources include information about testing schedules, meal delivery systems and students’ reported sympIn the Sept. 18 story about events hosted by the Office of Multicultural Affairs, Dr. Meagan Pollonais’ education was misrepresented. She holds a doctorate in music with a concentration or secondary emphasis in educational psychology. toms. Additional documents detail which students are in quarantine or isolation and when they will be able to return to campus.

Many of these records are overseen by Erin Foreman, who also has access to the COVID Checklist students are being asked to fill out to report symptoms. Van Vlerah believes the complex information systems are necessary for fighting the virus on campus. “You can’t undergo this type of endeavor without having a lot of data on hand and a bunch of different modes to digest it and get the information out that people want,” Van Vlerah said.

For students, the information presented in the dashboard provides a valuable up-to-date glimpse at how the coronavirus is impacting our campus life. Senior Garver Hall resident Trevor Robertson believes staying updated is especially important for residential students living in the dorms.

“I check the dashboard every week,” Robertson said. “It’s interesting to track each week’s new cases, and it makes you wonder how many of those positive cases you might’ve passed by in the dorm or walking to class.”

While the dashboard includes relevant weekly updates for students, Van Vlerah knows it is not an all-encompassing outlet for COVID information. She invites any students who were unable to attend the Town Hall meeting or other coronavirus information sessions to email with any questions. Additionally, Van Vlerah explained it might be possible to schedule additional meetings to detail how Manchester is working to prevent the spread of the virus and keep campus open this year.

Ensuring classes remain in person is one of the main goals of the dashboard, according to Van Vlerah. “This campus is so much better when everyone is here,” she said. She commends the responsibility students have shown by wearing masks and social distancing around campus and encourages the Manchester community to continue the good work. “Each individual on campus has the opportunity to support our initiatives and help us continue an in-person experience.”