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UNC will now only report COVID-19 tests administered by UNC in positivity rate metric

UNC sophomore Aneka Happer goes to wait in line at Campus Health's COVID-19 testing center on Friday, Aug. 21, 2020.

The UNC COVID-19 dashboard will now only reflect positive and negative test results from Campus Health and testing partners with UNC Hospital Respiratory Diagnostic Center, according to a campus-wide email from Provost Bob Blouin Tuesday.  

These changes to how the data is reported stem from inaccurate information on the dashboard, said Ken Pittman, the executive director for Campus Health Services. This was brought to Campus Health’s attention by the Orange County Health Department and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. 

“We were essentially providing two pieces of information,” Pittman said. “The dashboard showed all of the positive results our students were getting — regardless of where they were tested, and the total number of tests that were performed, as we had no way of knowing how many students were getting tested at outside entities.” 

Now this new practice is affecting how the data from previous weeks is reflected in the dashboard, and students are concerned about how these numbers are being used by the school.

Positive rate changes

The positivity rate on the COVID-19 dashboard is now adjusted to only include positive and negative test results from UNC. 

“The dashboard was more of a general estimate of what our positive rate was as opposed to our actual rate,” Pittman said. “It had a general estimate of what the positive rate was, but it was not as epidemiologically sound or accurate.”

Prior to this change, when students reported their positive COVID-19 results from tests administered off campus to Campus Health, those positive test results were factored into the positivity rate. But the only source of negative tests results came from Campus Health. 

“When (my result) turned out to be positive, I just called Campus Health,” said first-year Rachel Reynolds, who got tested off campus. “All of my suitemates got tested, six of us were positive but two were negative. I was kind of thinking that obviously the two who were negative didn’t report it to Campus Health, but I kept getting calls about contact tracing. I felt like it just kind of skewed the data.” 

Now, the numbers displayed on the Campus Health Testing section of the dashboard only include tests taken on campus. 

On Sept. 1, the positivity rate reported on the dashboard for the week of Aug. 24 through Aug. 30 was 41.3 percent. Under the new reporting method, the positivity rate for this week was 12 percent, according to the dashboard.  

“On campus testing — if we track those tests that are being performed, then we get positive and negative results associated with those specific tests with a very precise and epidemiologically sound positive rate,” Pittman said. 

Students are still encouraged to report their positive results because they will still be included under the campus positive cases section of the dashboard. 

Prospective Evaluation Testing program

As of Sept. 9, Campus Health is also offering voluntary testing for students living in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area to further prevent the spread of the virus.

But junior resident adviser Grace Stevens said this testing should have been implemented earlier.

“Personally, I think the tests should have been implemented before we all moved in, especially since it was difficult to know who came in with the virus and track what specifically caused the clusters,” Stevens said. “I don’t believe it was one person’s fault, though, and I think there are a lot of different pieces that have gone into the decisions made by both individuals and groups.”

Campus Health is highly encouraging this testing, and many students are choosing to participate. 

“I took a voluntary test when they were first made available and it was reassuring to hear that I had not yet been exposed,” junior and resident adviser Jalen Stolfosaid. “I will probably try to get tested again at some point during the new move in for my building because I expect that I will have to interact with more people than usual, and I would feel terrible if I infected someone.”

Prior to this program, Campus Health did not offer widespread testing of asymptomatic students due to U.S. Center for Disease Control recommendations. 

“The Center for Disease Control did not and continues to not recommend widespread testing of asymptomatic individuals, and the campus was following the CDC recommendations in that regard,” Pittman said. “Now, we determined that an approach, in order to keep our campus as safe as possible, is to have an ongoing, strongly recommended voluntary testing program.”

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The email to the student body explained that testing would run for the next two weeks — but Campus Health plans to continue offering Prospective Evaluation Testing after this period. 

“We envision we will have weekly testing available for all students in the residence halls,” Pittman said. “The communication to the student body was indicative of our plans to test for two or three weeks to see where we are at.” 

While testing is optional, Campus Health stresses the responsibility of students in the area to get tested.

“The goal, of course, would be for everyone to take advantage of this opportunity to test in order to keep themselves and their campus community as safe as possible,” Pittman said.