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Data-based Ways to Contain COVID on Campus

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Contain Covid on Campus

By Jon MacMillan, Product Manager

Under ordinary circumstances, Rapid Insight’s higher education users primarily apply our tools to outcomes like student enrollment and retention models. This year, several schools found an additional use for our products: supporting their efforts to track and contain COVID-19 on their campuses. 

Each institution’s approach is based on individual circumstances and depends on a range of factors. For example, university policies differ on how many students are allowed in dorms and classes. Ventilation and social distancing measures vary widely as well. But for every school we’ve spoken to, testing (and identifying those who need to be tested) plays a key role in their COVID-19 mitigation strategy. 

Why is Testing Critical to COVID-19 Containment?

Testing is proven to be a critical component of mitigating the spread of Coronavirus. 

When someone tests positive, it’s important to inform those exposed of their risk of infection. Often, those exposed require testing as well, as asymptomatic carriers can still spread the virus.

In other words, testing provides knowledge about positivity status that can inform decisions about quarantining to prevent further spread. From a resource perspective, the challenge is that there are not unlimited tests available or unlimited time to test every student every time they go out in public.

As such, schools came up with creative ways to prioritize which students are tested. This helps utilize a limited resource (testing kits) efficiently while keeping the number of positive cases as low as possible. Below, we will highlight a few of the ways our user institutions track and reduce the impact of COVID-19.

COVID Test Kits

Random Sampling

This method involves generating a random group of students to test each day to give administrators a general idea of the prevalence of COVID on campus. It is not the most comprehensive testing method, but schools fortunate enough to have very few or no active cases find it a practical approach. 

To generate the random sample, schools use our data preparation tool, Construct, to run through a list of students and randomly select a subset to test. 

Generally, this random sample is stored in an ever-growing table (with an accompanying timestamp) to track when students were tested and avoid testing the same students repeatedly.

This approach has utility until the point where institutions detect positive cases. From then on, schools tend to shift gears to a more comprehensive method.

Surveying Positive Cases

Many schools that detect positive cases survey COVID-positive students to better understand their potential exposure to others on campus. 

Typically, when a student tests positive, they take a survey of questions about where they have been and who they have been in contact with. 

This gives the school the ability to identify other potential cases and test accordingly. But students sometimes misremember or forget important information, painting an incomplete picture. Thus, schools with positive cases often institute contract tracing.

Contact Tracing

Contact Tracing Through Housing Data

Tracing potential exposure through housing data means alerting (and often testing) a positive student’s roommates and/or dormmates. This means schools can quarantine certain dorms, floors, or houses while the rest of the campus remains open, minimizing spread while reducing the impact on operations.

This seems like a logical and straightforward approach from an outsider’s perspective. But institutions often store housing data in separate databases that are not easily accessible. 

However, several of our Construct users have been able to access this data. With this info, they can identify where positive cases appeared and individuals living nearby. Schools can order tests and quarantines to address the problem at a smaller, more targeted scale.

Additionally, some schools count the total number of positive cases nearby to further prioritize students for testing. If student A lives near 1 positive case, and student B lives near 5 positive cases, student B is prioritized for testing.

Contract Tracing Through Card Swipe Data

Other institutions tap into card swipe data to track potential exposure and prioritize testing. Anytime a student visits the library, the dining hall, or anywhere else they swipe an ID card, institutions can view this information to determine which other students were in their presence during the visit, and thereby at risk of exposure.

Using Construct, users can either access their card swipe database directly or work from extracts to track activity.

This gives institutions a clearer, more detailed idea of which students may have been exposed by following a positive student throughout their day, rather than solely basing the decision on their housing situation.

COVID Mask and App

The Role of Adatability

Hard work, planning, and ingenuity are the primary factors that enabled universities to safely open for in-person classes this semester. Persistence and creativity allow them to contain COVID on campus and remain in operation. 

Another critical attribute for success is adaptability, especially tools that can change as plans do. That adaptability is a major reason institutions find our software helpful in organizing their COVID response. Regardless of an institution’s approach, a tool that can evolve along with the situation is a major asset.

Do you know of other data-based methods institutions employ to contain COVID-19? Please let us know in the comments below.

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