App State launches new COVID-19 dashboard, minus promised enhancements

Last week, in the wake of UNC-Chapel Hill announcing it would move all undergraduate courses online in the face of mounting COVID-19 infections, Appalachian State University Chancellor Sheri Everts sent a message to her university community.

While expressing optimism about the campus’ relative position with regard to COVID outbreaks, Everts did address deficiencies in the school’s COVID-19 informational dashboard that students, staff and faculty have been pointing to for weeks.

“In the coming days, we will add enhancements to our reporting dashboard so our university community will have access to additional public health information, including percentages of positive test results,” Everts wrote.

On Monday App State launched its new, revised dashboard — without the promised enhancements.

The new dashboard does not give the number of tests performed, the percentage of positives or other information that is provided on the dashboards of other UNC System schools, including those of UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State University.

Information available through other dashboards but not provided by the App State dashboard includes isolation and quarantine room capacity, the number and percentage of courses now being taught in-person vs. remote, the availability of community protective equipment and information about on-campus housing occupancy.

App State’s dashboard appears to simply add two colorful graphs representing information  — cumulative cases on campus and active cases — that was already available before the update.

“This new dashboard, if you can call it that, does nothing but provide graphical representations of data that was already there, and that data remains limited to active and cumulative case numbers,” said Chris Harris, adjunct instructor in the Department of English. “It fails to provide promised additional public health information and data on testing and positive test percentages. It fails our students and their families. It fails our staff and faculty. And, as importantly, it fails the local rural community we’re such an integral part of. It’s all far too little, far too late. ”

“And another thing,” Harris added. “If UNC and N.C. State and ECU can provide cluster alerts and do dashboard updates over the weekend, so can ASU. Covid doesn’t take the weekend off.”

As Policy Watch reported earlier this month, the UNC System has expressed its intention to maintain a system-wide COVID-19 dashboard that would collect many more data points daily than are expressed on any of the individual dashboards. That dashboard would be password protected, for internal use only and not available to the public. A system spokesman told Policy Watch individual schools may share the information on their own dashboards.

Student, faculty and staff have expressed frustration with the level of transparency at many of the system universities and deficiencies in their public dashboards. The lack of consistency in what information is shared, how it is sourced and how often it is updated has made it difficult to get a clear picture of the pandemic’s impact on some schools in the system and to tell how the schools compare to one another.

As Policy Watch reported last week, App State’s Faculty Senate recently passed a “no confidence” resolution on Everts’ leadership. Many of their grievances against the chancellor are related to the school’s handling of the pandemic, decision to reopen the campus and the level and tenor of communication with the faculty.

“But on a day when faculty warnings about the dangers of reopening in a pandemic have proved prophetic, UNC administrators are showing they are bad at reading symptoms in more ways than one,” said Dr. Michael Behrent, chair of the ASU faculty senate, after the “no confidence vote.

“Over the past year, I have reached out to the chancellor, the members of the Board of Trustees, and others in university administration with the sole goal of expressing faculty anxieties and frustrations about the university’s direction,” Behrent said. “Many of these concerns predate COVID, but the pandemic has brought them to a fever pitch. Their response has been at best dismissive, at worst punitive.”

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