OU Chief COVID-19 Officer clears up dashboard confusion

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NORMAN, Okla. (KFOR) – The University of Oklahoma is facing a dilemma between a public health crisis and protecting individuals’ personal health when it comes to COVID-19. Professors claim that without accurate reporting of positive cases on campus, students and faculty are finding it difficult to navigate the school year.

“What I’d like to see is for state, local and university officials to get together and figure out a more streamlined reporting system so that we get accurate information,” said Mike Boettcher, an OU Professor.

Boettcher is referring to the University of Oklahoma’s online COVID-19 Dashboard. He, along with another OU Professor, John Schmeltzer, said that the numbers do not reflect an accurate count of the positive cases on campus.

“Parents rely upon OU to provide accurate information so they can assess how safe their kids are to go and be attending school,” said Schmeltzer. “This information that we’re giving just isn’t complete or accurate.”

OU’s COVID-19 Dashboard is made up of two parts: The left side reflects the numbers received from Goddard Health Center and additional numbers based on students and staff submitting positive results from outside testing sites, while the right side includes numbers from the Oklahoma State Department of Health. It is important to note that the left side, the OU side, is manually updated, whereas the right side’s numbers are automated.

“This [left side], there’s still those forms that students fill out and email in. That still takes a manual process to actually process. So it takes a bit longer to get that data,” said Dr. Dale Bratzler, OU’s Chief COVID-19 Officer. “We’re trying to figure out a way to automate it.”

Those forms Dr. Bratzler is referring to are screening forms that let the university know if students and staff have tested positive at a site outside of the campus. When they fill out those forms, that information is also included in the left side of the dashboard’s bottom two graphs. Although it is encouraged, it is not mandatory for those forms to be filled out.

“We have a student responsibility to fill out that screening form,” said Dr. Bratzler. “If they test positive, if they’re waiting on a test, if they have symptoms or if they have exposures to somebody, those are the four circumstances that we require students to fill out the form, but there’s no way for me to enforce that.”

Dr. Bratzler said even though human responsibility is not always a reliable option, there is still another way those positive tests will be counted.

“Any testing site, whether it’s a laboratory or any, it’s required by law to report it to the state health department and they’re required to report the person’s address,” said Dr. Bratzler. “And so, if a student puts down their address as being on the University of Oklahoma campus, then it will show up in the Norman data, the Cleveland County data and maybe our zip code data, if they live in our zip codes. So that’s why we built the right side of the dashboard, is to highlight what’s happening, because we knew we wouldn’t always know every positive test, but we would know what’s happening in Norman, Cleveland County and in those three zip codes immediately around the University.”

Dr. Bratzler said students and staff are encouraged to utilize the free COVID-19 testing on campus: Goddard Health Center during the week and the Cate Center on weekends when Goddard is closed. However, Dr. Bratzler said the latter may not remain open for that much longer since testing done per day has dropped off.

“OU Medical Center is sending staff down to campus to staff that testing site,” said Dr. Bratzler. “If they’re not doing enough tests, it won’t make sense to pay people to just sit there all day long to not do any tests.”

Dr. Bratzler said OU classrooms are something you can count on when it comes to taking preventative measures.

“Personal responsibility is a big part of it, because we can’t control what the students do when they’re outside of the classroom. I’m convinced that the University of Oklahoma, that the classrooms are incredibly safe. We put into place all the mitigating factors to make the classroom safe, but I can’t control what they do outside the classroom,” said Dr. Bratzler. “We recognize college is a time when people are getting out, they’re independent now, they’re away from home, and we can only ask them to take that personal responsibility to physically distance, to wear their mask, to separate from other people, but there’s only so much that we can do.”

University officials announced on Friday that OU’s COVID-19 surveillance testing program will now include a random selection of on-campus residential students.

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