Additional Information About Our Testing Data and Reporting

Nov 4, 2020 5:10 PM

While there is understandable concern about COVID-19 data that was shared yesterday, it is important to understand how this data is arrived at, and its place in all the factors that are being monitored.    

Keep in mind, these indicators are fluid and are being monitored in real time. Some key indicators we are monitoring: 

  • Incidence rate (new cases) and prevalence rates (number of active cases in isolation):  
    • Prevalence rate: Currently 26 casesThese are cases considered still contagious based on CDC guidelines. These cases have begun to drop. Active cases since then have dropped by 6 to 26 cases. 
    • Incidence rate: This was a key factor in our decision to pause in-person classes, when cases went up by 12 from 20 to 32 in the course of 24 hours.  
  • Positivity rate: The rate reported by different schools and different agencies are calculated using different factors, over different amounts of time, and based on varying factors. If you read explanations on website reporting positivity rates, you will see this. For example:  
    • FSU-administered tests (this means that FSU knows the outcome of every test taken, whether positive or negative).
      • 7-day rate (10/25-10/31): 3.48% 
      • 14-day rate (10/18-10/31): 6.27%
        These are the rates that most other USM schools report, and are what the Maryland Department of Health uses in its evaluation of campuses.  

    • Validated self-reported tests (these are tests conducted elsewhere and uploaded to our portal.) These are more likely to be positive tests, since these other outlets often do not report or provide documentation of negative tests, and patients are more likely to report a positive test than a negative one. Nonetheless, these are positive cases, and they are part of what we consider and report; however, when combined with a full range of tests, they tend to skew results.  
  • Case clustering (whether contact tracing can identify a common factor among cases and the likelihood of spread outside those clusters):  

    Contact tracing in our recent uptick in cases confirmed that most of these cases were spread within common social circle. (To protect privacy and because of laws protecting individual health and student records, we will not provide identifying information about any positive cases.) Had we seen significant spread outside of these social circles, or what is called “community spread,” we would have taken stronger actions. 

  • Isolation capacity and Brady Health Center capacity
    • We have 32 isolation/quarantine rooms at an off-campus hotel for on-campus students with documented positive cases or contact-tracing identified close contact. For most of the semester, we have used less than half of this capacity. Last week, when active cases rose rapidly, there was concern that if cases continued to increase, we would reach 80% capacity, a level that is one of our triggers to take corrective action. As it turned out, we did not reach that level, another factor in deciding to return to our previous status. 
    • Brady Health, an ambulatory health center, has two of its five exam rooms designated as dedicated isolation rooms for sick patients. It requires 30 minutes in between patients to disinfect those rooms per the guidelines. A significant increase in sick patient visits and requirements for consents to the off-campus hotel impacts the ability of Brady to maintain patient flow.  

Other key factors:  

  • Symptomology: The severity of symptoms among the majority of those testing positive is also being monitored. With a few exceptions, those being overseen by Brady Health have reported relatively minor symptoms thus far.

  • Mitigating risks: We also consider our ability to mitigate continued risks through implementing strategies such as sending disinfecting teams into areas of concern, increasing surveillance testing among cohorts, and closely monitoring correlations between wastewater samples as a predictive variable for positivity rates.

Regarding the decision to end the “pause” as of Nov. 5: The recovery team met twice on Monday, Nov. 2, to review the indicators.  We continued to see a decline in demand for testing at the Brady Health Center,  the number of individuals at the off-campus hotel had declined from the high the previous week, the results of the midweek wastewater test showed a further decline for both on and off campus, and contact tracing gave no evidence that the increase was related to any on-campus instruction or activities.

We announced a resumption of activities, including in-class instruction beginning on Thursday, Nov. 5. We kept the University System and Allegany County Health Department informed of our actions.