Domb creates Higher Education COVID-19 Data Tracker

  • MINDY DOMB

  • Signs near Amherst Town Hall, Friday, Oct. 2, 2020 remind people that masks are required.

Staff Writer
Published: 10/16/2020 9:42:39 PM

AMHERST — A primary driver of COVID-19 cases for the past month in Amherst and Sunderland has been positive tests among off-campus students from the University of Massachusetts.

Despite UMass providing daily updates on its testing, as well as Amherst College and Hampshire College regularly publicizing their tests and cases, weekly statewide reports on public and private colleges and universities include only case totals and not details about whether a specific institution is becoming an epicenter for spread of the novel coronavirus.

To rectify what she sees as a lapse in information, and her disappointment that the state is not doing more with the data, state Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, this week unveiled what she is calling the statewide Higher Education COVID-19 Data Tracker.

“Being able to see this data across campuses helps to identify trends and needs on campuses for policymakers and for the communities that host them across the state,” Domb said in a statement released Thursday.

Domb, whose 3rd Hampshire district also includes Pelham and Precinct 1 in Granby, points to inconsistencies in the higher education COVID-19 dashboards and how state agencies, such as the Department of High Education and Department of Public Health, should be overseeing more comprehensive statewide data collection from campuses.

The tracker Domb has created is at repmindydomb.com/mahigheredtracker/ and includes the results of COVID-19 testing at institutions of higher education, completed by reviewing the websites of 94 public and private institutions and finding reports for 57 campuses.

In the state’s COVID-19 weekly tracker, there have been 119 confirmed cases on campuses since last week, and 1,177 since late August. But Domb notes that the names of the schools where these cases are happening are not identified, despite making this request in writing on Aug. 24 to the Department of Higher Education of “the need to publish COVID-19 surveillance reports by college campus.”

“I described that it could resemble the kind of reporting that the (Baker) administration does by individual correctional facility,” Domb said.

Domb’s legislative team, including legislative aide Katie O’Leary, will be updating their dashboard weekly on Tuesdays so it is available for release Wednesdays to coincide with the state’s weekly public health report.

In mid-September, the COVID-19 Command Center announced that it would aggregate data from 59 colleges and universities into the weekly report and include the daily and cumulative COVID-19 cases, COVID-19 molecular testing, percent positive of molecular tests, and percentage of confirmed cases by date associated with higher education testing.

But Domb maintains that is not sufficient, pointing to how New York has reported out information from the State University of New York system.

“Students, faculty, staff and their surrounding communities deserve a high level of access to information,” Domb said. “Other states have done it; so should Massachusetts. Our host communities deserve more.”

Domb said her tracker is basic, is not being compiled by epidemiologists, and is likely missing a lot of information, but could serve to identify necessary improvements so that the data becomes standardized and more useful. The information could be used to show how colleges and universities are impacting city and town numbers, whether students, faculty or staff are getting infected, and how decisions being are made.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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