BU Launches COVID-19 Dashboard of Data
Site is aimed at providing transparency, as well as comfort and confidence
How many COVID-19 tests will Boston University conduct every day on students, faculty, and staff? Will the numbers of positive, negative, and inconclusive results be made available for others to see? Can we compare BU’s rates to other rates to see whether the University is trending above or below norms? How often will the numbers be updated?
So many questions.
One way that BU hopes to answer many of them is with a dashboard of data that went live on Monday and will be updated daily. COVID-19 dashboards are everywhere now. The commonwealth of Massachusetts has one. The city of Boston has one. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has one.
BU Today reached out to a community of experts and BU leaders involved in the creation of BU’s dashboard to explain how it will work. Here are their condensed answers:
What is the purpose of BU’s dashboard?
Transparency, and a certain level of confidence and comfort, for starters. The purpose of the dashboard is to provide the BU community with information about how healthy the campus is with regard to COVID-19. It will show the number of tests conducted and the number of individuals who have tested positive, negative, or inconclusive. The dashboard is BU’s push for transparency—with its own community of students, faculty, and staff, with neighbors of the BU campuses, and with the city of Boston and the commonwealth of Massachusetts.
How many tests will BU conduct daily?
It’s estimated BU will conduct between 5,000 and 6,000 tests daily. By comparison, the state conducts about 10,000 to 15,000 tests per day.
Will the numbers on the dashboard be updated daily?
Yes. Each update will include daily and cumulative numbers, positive tests, negatives, and inconclusive results. It will also show seven-day averages, as well as comparative figures from local counties and the state. Additionally, it may eventually show the attestation rates of students, meaning how effective they are being at submitting their own daily symptom check into BU’s system.
Why are some results inconclusive, and what does that mean?
BU’s test will provide individuals with a positive or negative result from the lab. But there will be occasions where a positive or negative result is not generated, and that swab will be labeled as an inconclusive result. An inconclusive test requires a new swab to be collected from the individual. An inconclusive test can be the result of any number of factors, including a swabbing error at the time or during the collection, not enough sample from the swab to process, or another technical reason for no result being delivered. Inconclusive results are rare, but not unexpected in a clinical laboratory running large numbers of samples, and efforts will be made to quickly resolve them and retrieve a negative or positive result.
Where is the data coming from?
EMRs, or electronic medical records systems, which are accessible only to BU’s healthcare professionals.
But it won’t ever reveal an individual’s test, right?
Right. There will never be person-specific information on the dashboard.
Will the numbers include every single person within the BU community?
At the start, it will include only student data, since students started to arrive on August 15. Approximately two weeks later, as testing continues to ramp up, faculty and staff data will begin to appear. Users on the dashboard can view numbers in aggregate or break categories down individually.
How will Student Health Services rely on the dashboard and the data it provides?
The newly created Healthway, which is a unified group of healthcare providers and contact tracers working to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus, will use this information to monitor COVID-19 cases on campus and use the information to direct tracking, treatment, and intervention efforts.
Will the dashboard be able to help BU officials in other ways?
Yes. The dashboard data will provide everyone with a snapshot of BU’s community health on a daily basis, serving as a daily pulse check on the community. But for BU’s administration and health officials, they will have access to a wealth of other information that will also help them track the virus and interrupt the spread of it.
As an example, data collected by BU’s health professionals will be used to create so-called heat maps that will be used to show a cluster of positive tests, a so-called hot spot, in one specific part of campus, or one building even, like a residence hall. Knowing that information can allow BU health officials to step up contact tracing there and quarantining or isolating individuals or groups to contain the cluster from spreading.
Should people look at the dashboard regularly and what should they pay attention to?
BU has developed a robust testing program to detect cases of COVID-19 that otherwise might not have been known. However, BU will be testing a broad swath of community members every day who do not feel sick or have no reason to believe they are infected. This is known as community, or surveillance, testing, and it’s the most effective way to measure the health of a community. The dashboard will reflect those findings as well as results from people who report symptoms.
There will be cases—that is inevitable for a disease that has infected more than five million people nationwide. What’s important is encouraging awareness of what is happening on campus and using the dashboard information as a reminder of the importance of how critical it is to adhere to the individual health practices of hand hygiene, consistent use of facial coverings, and physical, social distancing.