By Abigail Cloutier
Every Monday, Youngstown State University updates their COVID-19 dashboard with the latest number of cases. This week, the university reported three additional off-campus cases, and no employee or on-campus cases. However, what exactly this data means can be confusing for many.
Currently, the dashboard only posts cases confirmed by testing.
“I think when people look at any kind of statistics related to COVID, it’s important that they understand the big picture,” the director of Occupational and Environmental Health and Safety, Julie Gentile, said. “There’s going to be cases that happen that aren’t reported timely … But at this point, the dashboard is confirmed cases, which means they have to have a positive test. So there are some diagnosed cases, that [are] based on symptoms and stuff like that, that people may choose not to go get tested, those would not be part of those numbers. So again, it’s just the confirmed positive tested cases that are being reported.”
Behind the Data: Student Cases
According to the university, on-campus cases are classified as only those in residence halls — students living in Kilcawley, Lyden and Cafaro houses. To date, YSU has reported only one case of COVID-19 in one of these residence halls since August.
Off-campus cases cover students who commute from neighboring counties or across the Pennsylvania state line. According to Gentile, the off-campus designation also covers students who live in apartment complexes immediately surrounding campus. This includes the University Courtyards on Wick Oval, just behind Bliss Hall and President Tressel’s house, as well as the Campus Lofts and YSU Enclave on Wick Avenue, and the University Edge apartments on Lincoln Avenue. The women-only dormitory located across from Kilcawley Center, Buechner Hall, is also considered off-campus. All of these apartment complexes are student-only housing.
At this time, the university elected to not make a distinction on where students who tested positive for COVID-19 live for privacy reasons. “We don’t want to provide that information at that detail that would allow people to figure out who the person was. So, we’ve intentionally been very vague on positive cases, students, faculty, staff on-campus, off-campus, just to make sure that we ensure the privacy of everybody,” Gentile said. So far, there have been 17 off-campus cases.
Behind the Data: Employee Testing
YSU reported three employee cases of COVID-19 since August. In the dashboard, there is no distinction between faculty, administrative employees and other employees, such as food service employees. Everyone who has been in contact with an infected person would be notified through contact tracing efforts. Yet, those efforts could deteriorate if students or employees fail to scan-in to classrooms and university spaces with the YSU app.
Contact Tracing and Analysis
“Let’s suppose that I’m a student, I didn’t check in, I don’t have symptoms, I sit next to you [and] you get symptoms. You get checked and you are diagnosed with COVID, right? Then people think that you are ‘Patient Zero,’ and they’re ignoring me,” Alicia Prieto, professor of mathematics and statistics, said. Prieto completed her doctorate in mathematical biology and contributed to epidemiological agent-based modeling of the Zika virus.
Some larger institutions such as The Ohio State University report the number of isolation and quarantine beds being used and available, as well as positivity rates among students. Though Weller House is currently reserved for COVID-19 isolation, the number of students (if any) that is or has quarantined in the space is also not being disclosed. YSU struggles to report positivity rates in part because of the lack of surveillance testing, which would test a random portion of students periodically to help identify clusters of cases. The university hopes to roll out surveillance testing by the end of fall semester, but does not yet have a confirmed timeline.
“I think there’s going to be some collaboration with the health department, obviously with Mercy [Health], because that’s our primary group that we would go to anyways,” Nicole Kent-Strollo, Director of Student Outreach and Support, said. “And then working with the same offices that are already on-board on campus.”
Currently, walk-up and drive-up testing is available for free at locations near campus every Thursday. Testing is also available at Mercy Health Wick Primary Care for a fee or with insurance.
Visit the YSU coronavirus dashboard every Monday for updated cases. If you or another student have COVID-19 symptoms, test positive, or have health concerns related to COVID-19, reach out to the Office of Student Outreach and Support online.