Our View is a staff editorial produced collaboratively by the entire Rocket Staff. Any views expressed in the editorial are the opinions of the entire staff.
To review our editorial policy, which includes our blotter policy, click here.
The coronavirus pandemic might not feel like a reason to panic in a small town like Slippery Rock, but the death toll has now exceeded 200,000 Americans. In our small town, everyday life has been drastically altered by COVID-19, and actively seeking and understanding the facts is the first step in getting back to a more normal life.
For the past six weeks, our staff has been accessing SRU’s COVID-19 dashboard daily. In addition to the cumulative number of cases, we have also been tracking any changes to SRU’s coronavirus reporting efforts.
Most recently, SRU included a count of people in quarantine (“a form of self-isolation after close contact with someone that has COVID or someone who is ill and waiting for COVID test results”) and isolation (“a form of self-isolation for people with COVID or who is ill and waiting for COVID test results”).
In one of the most visible forms of COVID-19 information, SRU also launched the building status website, which regularly provides information on building closures and mandated temperature screenings for select employees.
While the two most recent changes to SRU’s dashboard provide significantly more information about the impact of COVID-19 at Slippery Rock, we need more data. As SRU nears 100 total cases, we need data that shows us the most complete information.
We need the numbers of on-campus and off-campus cases.
From President William Behre’s recent State of the University address, we know that there were less than a handful of positive cases at the time which were on-campus students. However, we have yet to receive any specific numbers in this regard.
According to SRU’s COVID-19 dashboard, “to protect the privacy of all individuals involved, SRU will release no details regarding the identity of any persons.” Because of this, SRU has yet to publicly release information about whether students who test positive live on- or off-campus.
However, seven other PASSHE universities—California, Indiana, Kutztown, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg and West Chester—report on-campus versus off-campus cases.
When SRU reported its first COVID-19 cases, it made the most sense to not include this information. However, based off of the number posted alone, we only know that 95 students tested positive, and we lack information about where they live.
We need a count of students in recovery.
The most prominent number on SRU’s dashboard is the total number of cases. We have no number of recovered cases of people who completed their quarantine or isolation periods.
The problem here is simple: SRU’s current COVID-19 situation is not defined by the total number of cases since Aug. 20. Rather, SRU’s current situation is based on trends and the number of active cases at the time.
So, we can assume that there are not 95 students actively positive. However, especially in times of crisis, community members need the most explicit information possible.
We need to know where these students are quarantining or isolating.
We have a count of students and staff in quarantine and isolation; however, we do not know if these students are isolating in their own dorms, in a different part of campus, immediately off campus or outside of Slippery Rock.
IUP’s dashboard is the most detailed of all PASSHE university reporting, as it lists the location of new student cases and the number of isolation beds occupied by positive or presumed positive students.
Bloomsburg’s reporting in this area is also specific, as its website lists the number of students isolating off-campus or on-campus and the number of students who traveled home.
In these two schools alone, we see examples of how we can visualize the number of people in recovery and their exact locations.
While we respect the privacy of all students and faculty who self-reported their results to the university, we are now at a point in which we need more regularly updated data in order to understand the true campus climate during the pandemic.
We also understand that much of this information can be obtained with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. However, during this semester, every single student, staff member and community member should have access to this information in a highly-visible location.
The Rocket greatly respects the University Communication and Public Affairs office for their work during this difficult time and especially administration’s willingness to add more information about COVID-19 cases to the website.
At this time, we greatly encourage you to monitor symptoms and self-report to the Student Health Center or Human Relations as needed. These reports are only as accurate as the information SRU is able to receive, so if you know someone who tested positive, encourage them to call to self-report.
Slippery Rock is not just a campus, it is only a small fraction of a larger community, and we are so intertwined it is not only important to keep students and staff updated, but also the community members as the majority of cases are coming from off-campus housing and interactions.
As a community, all we are asking for is the best information available, especially as that data will be utilized by university administrators to evaluate the present situation and in preparation for the spring.
We stakeholders deserve to be well-informed by our leaders so we may also prepare for the next chapter.
We want to plan and create contingencies for the small things we can control like housing and course load. However, if we do not have a clear picture of what SRU looks like now, we cannot envision how we fit into the community next semester.