ASU's cumulative COVID-19 cases do not add up

A Wednesday update announced a cumulative 1,305 student and 25 faculty COVID-19 cases, but numbers do not match previous reports

An ASU COVID-19 update added new data figures for the ASU community, but the numbers needed to be fact-checked after publication, a spokesperson confirmed Wednesday. 

After being asked about the numbers, the University updated the page by adding an asterisk next to the cumulative faculty number that explained it included positives prior to Aug. 1.    

The University announced there have been 1,305 students and 25 employees who have tested positive for the coronavirus since Aug. 1 – 610 students have been cleared for return to the community as well as 138 employees. 

The update reflects both the total number of students and employees who have tested positive since Aug. 1 and the number of students and employees who have been cleared for release, but previous data clearly showed that more than 25 employees had tested positive. 

The 25 cumulative positive cases among employees appear inaccurate. An update on Aug. 28 reported there were 28 cases among employees at the time. A spokesperson did not respond to a question concerning the number.

Previously, the University only displayed the number of positive cases within the ASU community. The cumulative numbers released Wednesday, when subtracted by the number of those cleared, did not equal the active number of cases within the student body.

According to ASU spokesperson Jay Thorne, the discrepancy between cumulative positive tests since Aug. 1 and the cumulative number "cleared for release" was caused by two factors: The cumulative positive number only includes those tested by ASU, and employees who tested positive before Aug. 1 were included in the "cleared for release" total but not the cumulative amount of cases.

"There were people who weren't getting tested at ASU, they were getting tested elsewhere, so people rolled off, who were not tested at ASU after Aug. 1," Thorne said.

He said the faculty and staff number of positives who have been cleared looked high, and the University would fact-check that number. 

Once students and employees have met guidelines set by Maricopa County and state health departments to return to campus, they will be rolled off the list of positive cases, a University spokesperson confirmed in an email.

"Over time, people will roll off the positive case count list, and depending on whether or not there are new positives, the number we report may go up or down," the spokesperson said.

The page still displays Monday's numbers of 825 total positive active cases as of Sept. 6. Of those cases, 573 are off campus, 202 are in isolation on the Tempe campus, 32 are in isolation on either the Downtown, West or Polytechnic campuses and 18 are employees.

ASU reported it has collected 48,152 total coronavirus tests since Aug. 1. The percent positivity rate is 2.7% using the cumulative positive as the numerator and the total number of collected tests as the denominator. 

The University is still not reporting this number and is instead using active positives as the numerator and student and faculty populations as the denominator resulting in positivity rates of 1% and 0.1% for students and faculty respectively.

READ MORE: University changes its policy for reporting COVID-19 cases

To return to campus and be removed from the list, students and employees must spend 10 days in isolation if they never experienced symptoms. Those who did experience symptoms must also spend 10 days in isolation along with 24 hours with no fever and use no fever-reducing medication, according to the University's coronavirus FAQ page. 

In accordance with CDC guidelines, those who test positive for the virus do not have to test negative before returning to campus.

The Arizona Department of Health Services reported 496 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday along with 30 new reported deaths. Internal tracking of ADHS zip code data by The State Press shows that positive cases in all ASU campuses zip codes have remained consistent since Sept. 5. The Tempe campus 85281 zip code has a total case count of 2,586 as of Wednesday.

Neither Monday's nor Wednesday's update included operational changes. As the University previously stated, no email was sent to students with the case numbers or updated policy about cumulative numbers. 

Housing is still operating in mode three and learning is still taking place under mode two. The third housing mode includes increased security, a no external visitor policy and a de-densification process for residence halls with communal bathrooms and living spaces. 

The second learning mode allows students to attend classes using ASU Sync where some students are present for instruction in-person and others attend through Zoom. 

The University has yet to disclose what thresholds it is using to make changes to these modes, but President Michael Crow said during a student forum last week that a spike in cases in the state or at school would be a reason to make a shift. 

In a media briefing with other University employees from ASU's Biodesign Institute and Knowledge Enterprise on Wednesday, Crow said the coronavirus is not going away anytime soon and accepting its presence and the precautions to stay safe are necessary. 

The next update will be released Thursday evening with case data from Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.


Reach the reporters at pjhanse1@asu.edu and wmyskow@asu.edu and follow @piperjhansen and @wmyskow on Twitter. 

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