Temple to release more detailed COVID-19 case data

The university is considering adding weekly case and test counts and clarifying the distinction between on- and off-campus cases.

A COVID-19 testing center at Temple University sits below Morgan Hall on Aug. 20. | JULIA LARMA / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple University is working to implement changes to its COVID-19 active case dashboard amid criticism from students and faculty regarding the way it has reported cases.

The university is hoping to add weekly counts of new cases and tests performed along with the positivity rate among those tested, said Sarah Powell, Temple’s director of emergency management. Temple also is considering publishing daily case numbers on the dashboard, but may not be able to because of the slow turnaround of some tests, Powell said. 

Temple also intends to clarify whether a case is associated with on-campus housing to clear up confusion surrounding its current categories, which consider a case as “on campus” if the student or employee was inside a university facility at the time they were infectious and “off campus” if they live adjacent to campus but were not in a facility while infectious, Powell said.

Powell did not provide a timeline for when the changes would be implemented, but said Temple is working on it now.

Usama Bilal, an epidemiology and biostatistics professor at Drexel University, said adding the total number of tests, positive cases and positivity rates “definitely provides a much better picture.” 

Bilal said Temple providing comprehensive data would allow the public to understand whether the situation at the university is getting better or worse.

“This is not just an isolated rural campus, this is something that is in the middle of the city,” he said. “Providing that kind of data, I think it’s useful for both the Temple community and Philadelphia community to know how things are going.”

Temple reported 318 active COVID-19 cases among students and employees on Sept. 4, according to the dashboard. Temple’s dashboard will continue to display the number of active cases alongside the additional data, Powell said. 

Some students and faculty at Temple have criticized the current dashboard for not showing the number of cases that are added each day and the total number of those testing positive throughout the semester. On the current dashboard, positive cases are removed once the infected person meets the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s criteria for symptom-based recovery.

Student Body President Quinn Litsinger said Temple Student Government had concerns regarding the availability of cumulative case and test totals and the confusion surrounding how the university distinguished between on- and off-campus cases. 

“It’s better late than never, and I’m glad that they listened to feedback on why the dashboard in its current form wasn’t sufficient,” Litsinger said.

Steve Newman, president of the Temple Association of University Professionals, the union representing around 2700 faculty members, said the changes to the dashboard seem positive to him and TAUP.

 “We’ve been calling for changes right along those lines,” Newman said.

Newman said he hopes the university will also provide more regular updates on the status of its mitigation efforts, like its testing and contact tracing plans.

“Data is a crucial piece, but what are you going to do with that data?” Newman asked.

Powell said the university is doing everything it can to be responsive to the questions it gets about the dashboard and welcomes feedback in the future.

“I think that the main thing here is that we’re taking the feedback we’re getting and we immediately acted to say ‘OK, how do we make this more clear, how do we make it better,’” Powell said.

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