As COVID-19 cases continue to climb throughout Dane County and on the University of Wisconsin campus, UW introduced a webpage designed to provide the UW community with accurate summaries of student and employee COVID-19 testing data.
The UW’s Smart Restart Dashboard is now taking center stage in the campus-wide effort to fight back against COVID-19. The dashboard, which launched Aug. 26, shares up to date statistics on campus COVID-19 metrics such as total cases, total tests conducted and seven day positive test averages. Every day at 2 p.m., the dashboard is updated with the latest information.
UW spokesperson Meredith McGlone said in an email that when it came to releasing data, the university looked at a variety of approaches taken by other colleges and universities.
“We tailored our approach to be as useful and easy to understand as possible for our campus and community,” McGlone said in the email.
UW’s dashboard was designed to be on the cutting edge of information, including statistics, tables, pie charts and line graphs. The dashboard also includes a daily briefing on trends in infections.
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McGlone said while comprehensive, the dashboard purposely lacks some identifying information in the interest of protecting student privacy.
“We launched the campus dashboard with the data believed to be most relevant to a broad on- and off-campus audience and mindful of the need to protect the privacy of individuals who test positive,” McGlone said. “It’s continuing to evolve, taking into account user feedback.”
Student privacy is a top concern for UW during the pandemic, according to their announcement on the dashboard. Identifying information about certain subpopulations of students and their relations to COVID-19 could potentially be used to discriminate against them.
The dashboard also reflects results of only the most accurate tests, UW science writer Eric Hamilton said in an email. Campus testing measures are designed to a high degree of accuracy.
“These tests are extremely accurate,” Hamilton said. “Technically, the terms to describe accuracy in biomedical tests are specificity and sensitivity. The specificity of the kind of test we are using is generally 99% or higher.”
Sensitivity in this case refers to the odds a positive test result was in fact detecting the presence of the virus, whereas specificity is the likelihood someone who tests negative is actually not shedding the virus, Hamilton said. The more sensitive and specific a test, the more often it will give accurate results.
The sensitivity for the tests used on campus are 75 to 80% for positive values and over 99% for specificity, Hamilton said.
UW is sending test samples to Exact Sciences in Madison, which uses a polymerase chain reaction test, Hamilton said. PCR is the most common diagnostic test to look for genetic material from the COVID-19 virus.
Starting later in September, testing will be performed by the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory under an agreement with the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene, Hamilton said.
UW has the capacity to conduct 6,000 tests per week, but during move-in week at the residence halls, over 8,000 tests were performed, McGlone said.
On the day of the dashboard’s launch, Chancellor Rebecca Blank wrote a blog post citing it as a vital component of UW’s COVID-19 response. Blank added that increased testing would cause COVID-19 case totals to increase.
So far, Blank’s prediction is accurate, as the dashboard successfully identified a rise in confirmed infection numbers during move in week.
UW engineering professor Oguzhan Alagoz said the dashboard is the easiest way to communicate the vital statistics to a wider campus body.
“I think the dashboard is one way among all other ways that we are trying to tell students that you gotta be careful and take this virus seriously,” Alagoz said.
Alagoz specializes in infectious diseases and created various models and uses them to predict the spread of the virus.
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UW sophomore Eliza Lindley uses the dashboard to stay in the know about how campus is reacting to the virus, and appreciates the level of information provided by the website, Lindley said.
“I think it’s very comprehensive and they show a lot of different ways of looking at the data,” Lindley said. “There’s been some misinformation circulating about how many cases we have and I wanted to see what the university has documented.”