Many universities across the nation are struggling to control the spread of COVID-19 on their campuses. Outbreaks at other schools in Colorado have led to quarantining dorms, canceling in-person classes, and bans on all gatherings between college-aged people. The University of Northern Colorado has not faced any measures as drastic as those — yet.
The decision to swab one quarter of the noses on campus a week came near the middle of the semester, after other schools in the area had already grappled with the impacts of COVID-19. Colorado State University quarantined two dorms and their connected dining halls, and the University of Colorado Boulder moved to online instruction for two weeks following a spike in cases. In an effort to further prevent the spread, Boulder city council banned all gatherings between people aged 18-20.
Weld County has been much less hands-on in its handling of the ongoing pandemic. Well into October, county officials were resistant to promoting mask-wearing and have faced criticism from areas that are mandating stricter measures. In the early days of the pandemic, Weld County opposed the statewide measures that were put in place. Differences in environment have allowed Colorado schools to manage their pandemic response in different ways.
UNC began surveillance testing student athletes on Oct. 1, and expanded that testing to include all residential students on Oct. 13. Students have been divided into four groups, and one group is selected for testing each week. So far, over 1,000 students have been tested in this manner. UNC, a school in the middle of a county with a COVID positivity rate of 6.71%, is reporting zero positive cases from these tests.
Through non-surveillance tests conducted through the Student Health Center, and outside tests reported to the university, 28 new positive cases have been added to the university’s website. That number can only be found through weekly newsletters or manually tallying up entries on UNC’s table.
A table can be an effective storytelling device, informing the reader whether a positive case lives on campus and that they are now isolating, a saying that is repeated for every one of the nearly 100 cases reported on the website. While some staff do have expanded access to the raw numbers that have not been reported on the website, some students have begun keeping track of cases on their own.
In order to get a better idea of trends in UNC’s new reported cases, some students have manually counted up the cases reported on the dashboard. This task is complicated by UNC’s quiet backdating of some cases. While a lag in data reporting is to be expected, the format of the dashboard makes it easy to miss new cases that students may not have been looking for.
UNC has room to take lessons from Colorado’s other schools. Surveillance testing is a warning system for any outbreaks as they occur, and UNC’s isolation rooms have kept people separate from others. However, due to the lack of raw data coming out of official sources, students and community members are kept in the dark about what the situation on the ground actually looks like.
More information about UNC’s COVID numbers can be found at https://www.unco.edu/coronavirus/health-alerts/#cases. Information about Colorado’s case numbers can be found at https://covid19.colorado.gov/data/covid-19/covid-19-dial-dashboard