Using statistical analysis of provided coronavirus data, two educators are claiming that there is a likely outbreak among the Bowling Green State University student population, for which they are requesting action from the university, including the cancellation of all in-person events.
BGSU professor Andrew Schocket, Ph.D. in history, and University of Washington post-doctoral scholar Joseph Bak-Coleman, Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology, analyzed the COVID-19 response data provided by the university and compared the university testing program with that of other universities and current scientific studies “taken in the context of epidemiology.”
“I am asking the university immediately to implement a significant, meaningful, statistically scientifically rigorous surveillance testing regime. Until that’s in place … shut down all face-to-face events and classes, until we know what we’re facing,” Schocket said.
Schocket and Bak-Coleman have detailed the situation in an email sent to university administration, BGSU Chief Health Officer Ben Batey, the board of trustees, the Bowling Green mayor and city council.
The BGSU administration, in an email on Tuesday, said that the university remains committed to following the science to slow the spread of COVID-19. Batey is working with other medical and public health experts across the state and nation, including epidemiologists, to inform the university’s decisions.
“BGSU is meeting the expectations and recommendations for higher education provided by the state of Ohio, and is also coordinating with other universities and colleges in the state regarding our response to COVID-19,” the statement said.
“This requires BGSU to consider a wide range of health factors, including the availability of reliable and quick testing, as well as deploying this scarce resource to be most effective.”
Campus has also been de-densified, with more than 25% of students fully online and nearly 50% of faculty teaching fully online.
“Every day, we learn more about this virus. However, we already know that the actions of BGSU students, faculty and staff make a difference. This includes wearing face coverings, physical distancing, self-health monitoring, washing and sanitizing hands, treating others as if they are potentially COVID-19 positive and holding one another accountable,” the statement said.
“The university believes that higher education is not just a public good, but absolutely essential to society. We need to learn to live with this virus for months. To be clear, resuming in-person learning this fall was not a financial decision, but a stake in the ground, prioritizing safety and public health, but also continuing our service through education to BGSU students. We also recognize that not reopening would provide its own set of health implications. This global pandemic is something none of us have faced before. While it draws great interest within higher education, from historians, biologists and beyond, we recognize that we must remain focused and diligent, following the science and working with expert health professionals who have dedicated their careers to this work.
BGSU has provided choices and options for students, faculty and staff to study and work remotely where possible.
“We have and continue to make work and learning accommodations to those who do not believe it is in their best interest to be on our campuses. For example, like many others, Dr. Schocket is teaching and working fully virtual this fall. While these are certainly unprecedented times, the university will get to the other side of this crisis, and we will continue to work together to build a public university for the public good.”
Schocket and Bak-Coleman detail the number of cases that should exist based on the statistics released by the university as part of the weekly reporting on the BGSU COVID-19 Dashboard, which is publicly available on the university website.
“It is unclear what population these tests represent, but if it is the 13,000 BGSU students in town, then there were likely 350, but potentially as many as 1,300 undetected cases in Bowling Green on August 31st,” Schocket and Bak-Coleman wrote.
“The problem here is with so little testing that no one has any idea,” Schocket said.
The dashboard notes that there have been 420 surveillance tests of asymptomatic individuals since March, turning up six positive tests, or 1.4%.
“BGSU’s own data, taken in the context of epidemiology, reveal BGSU’s testing regime to be a failure, posing deadly risk to BGSU students, staff and faculty, and the Bowling Green community,” wrote Schocket and Bak-Coleman.
The issue came under question for Schocket while teaching one of his courses. He received notice that four students in his 120-student course would not be returning to class. Two of those students were leaving for “typical” reasons, which were detailed from the university. The other two were not given a reason, which is atypical, based on his teaching experience.
“It seems like almost every decision they make is counter to basic statistical analysis of what’s going on,” Schocket said.
The two professors, in addition to asking for the cancellation of face-to-face activities, are specifically asking that the university begin “surveillance testing of 2,000 students, faculty and staff located both on and off campus, for which Bak-Coleman would provide his services pro bono, to conduct the required analyses,” publish the outcomes of testing, and provide the models, data and assumptions the university is using for it’s COVID-19 response plan, as well as the thresholds that prompt measures such as a shutdown.
The Wood County Health Department has been working closely with BGSU, said health department spokesperson Alex Aspacher.
The health department’s disease investigation team is actively working with BGSU’s contact tracing team to identify cases and reduce the spread of COVID-19, he said.
As to questions about the health department’s methodology for accumulating data, the department responded that, “Generally, BGSU students who live on campus or in Wood County will be included as we receive notification of positive cases, with the exception of students who commute to class and live in surrounding counties. Those students would be counted where they live.
“In some cases, college students may not list their Wood County address, so it may take some time for us to identify it as a local case. Wood County Health Department works collaboratively with other health departments to identify where contacts and cases are actually residing. Regardless of where a case is initially reported, public health is immediately engaged in the contact tracing process.
(Correction: Bak-Coleman is a post-doctoral scholar, not a professor.)