‘Impossible for the University to know’: MU struggles to track student COVID-19 hospitalizations

When students return to their hometowns or don’t self-report, it becomes tougher for MU to know if they’re hospitalized.
MU's Student Health Center, seen in a Maneater file photo. Catherine Davis

As the University of Missouri grapples with the spread of COVID-19 among its student body, the school’s administration faces challenges in tracking data related to cases.

The University only publicizes data accumulated by the Boone County Public Health Department. MU has drawn criticism for its dashboard, which only provides raw counts of active and recovered cases, as well as a percentage of the student population that actively has COVID-19.

Some historical data and the number of students currently hospitalized — listed as zero — have been added more recently to the dashboard.

That number of hospitalizations can be problematic.

During Thursday’s Board of Curators meeting, UM System President and MU Chancellor Mun Choi asserted that there have been no student hospitalizations related to COVID-19 — the number displayed on the dashboard.

The Maneater is aware of at least two students who have recently recovered after hospitalization. To protect their privacy, those students are not named.

Asked by The Maneater how confident he is in the absence of hospitalizations, Choi explained that MU staff stays in contact with students who self-report positive test results.

“I actually get my numbers from our daily 7:30 in the morning meeting that I have with the medical experts that lead MU Health Care and Student Health,” Choi said. “And that’s the number that they are providing me … we’ve not received any indication that a student has been hospitalized, and that’s something that we do look for very carefully.”

Choi admitted a flaw with that approach:

“Now, if people are not self-reporting that information, and if they’re not through the Boone County Health Department, it’s hard to know,” he said.

Though it’s not known exactly how many, a number of students have chosen to return home after testing positive. One university physician, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said it would be “impossible for the university to know about students hospitalized in their hometowns unless the students volunteered the information.”

The unreliability of self-reported numbers influences MU’s source of public data. Even though the University requires students to report a positive test result online, it’s Boone County’s data on the dashboard.

Choi cited Michigan State University as an example of the dangers of reliance on self-reported numbers: He said MSU was reporting 550 student cases, but the local health department found there were “over 1,200.”

Choi didn’t say whether there was a similar disparity in data between MU and Boone County, but did call the county “the official record-keeper of COVID cases.”

Choi said student COVID-19 cases have fallen 88% since a Sept. 5 peak.

Edited by Hope Davis | hdavis@themaneater.com

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