University changes its policy for reporting COVID-19 cases

During a Wednesday press briefing, President Crow said coronavirus updates will now include cumulative and current positive case totals

Coronavirus data for the ASU community now reflects both cumulative and current positive case totals, President Michael Crow said during a press briefing about data Wednesday. 

The University's Monday update showed a decrease in cases due to a roll off of positives since some students had been medically cleared to return to campus. 

The update, which included numbers up to Sept. 6, reported a total of 825 student and faculty cases, a decrease in cases from the update the prior week. It did not explicitly say how or why the change had been made.

This is another policy change ASU has enacted since it announced over summer that it would not release any of its COVID-19 data. The University published its first set of COVID-19 data on Aug. 25, which included the number of positive cases on campus.

"People who are positive don't stay positive," Crow said. "We report medically cleared individuals out of our total positive. This is something that's not been done by the health department."

Vice President of Student Services Joanne Vogel said during the briefing that once students are in isolation, they must remain isolated whether they are symptomatic or not for at least 10 days. 

According to the University's coronavirus FAQ page, to return to campus and be removed from the positive case 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 without using fever-reducing medication. Once those conditions are met, students will be cleared to return by ASU Health Services, or, a medical provider can provide a letter for "verification and approval" to return to campus, the page said.

Students will be required to request clearance from Health Services before they return to campus, according to an ASU spokesperson.

Students are able to test after their recovery period but University policy does not require it prior to reentering the community. 

A percent positivity rate will not be part of Wednesday's update, according to interim Executive Vice President of ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise Neal Woodbury. Woodbury said the University is working to create an "unbiased sample" by expanding random testing so the percent positivity rate they eventually report will "give you something that really is meaningful."

The percent positivity rate divides the number of positives by the total number of test results collected to illustrate transmission in a given community and the effectiveness of testing.

The University is currently reporting a "confirmed positive" rate, which divides the number of cases by the total population of a given body, whether it be students or employees. It is not known whether the University is using active or cumulative cases for its calculation. 

Crow, Vogel and Woodbury were also joined by ASU Biodesign Institute's Executive Director Joshua LaBaer, who explained that between Aug. 27 and Sept. 2, some of the testing numbers were not "representative of this general population." 

Among students tested during that time who displayed symptoms, 9% tested positive, he said. The collective student population that was tested during that time frame, about 6,000, only had around a 3% positivity rate, a much smaller number, LaBaer said.

LaBaer likened the University's testing strategy as "taking scoops" out of a "massive bucket" of students and "seeing who's positive in those individual groups."

"Our report is not a public health report, our report is a report on the status of the operation of the University," Crow said. 

Woodbury and LaBaer said because there are different populations being tested, from the symptomatic to those randomly selected, it is difficult to nail down a percent positivity rate and is why intensive testing is important. 

"There isn't a lot of difference in who's testing positive, whether they're on campus or not," Woodbury said. "It's not coming to campus that matters, it's what's happening in the general population, that is what is driving the situation." 

The University's webpage detailing updates to virus cases and its management strategy was moved from the Biodesign Institute page to one under the Educational Outreach and Student Services page

Crow explained the move was to allow the Biodesign Institute to report scientific results of data analysis on one specific site and use the other to outline what's happening within the University.

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.

"What we think is important is who is positive and how we manage that," Crow said. 

Senior Reporter Wyatt Myskow contributed to this article.


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

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