Editorial: Tufts community deserves better communication from university administration

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Though COVID-19 restrictions may be easing, Tufts students and the Tufts community still face a number of challenging decisions. At the Daily, we strive to report honest and timely accounts of academics and campus life to keep the Tufts community safe and informed. 

Amid the pandemic, students at Tufts relied on the university for data on COVID-19 case numbers and information regarding testing policies and care. We are incredibly grateful to the administration for developing a COVID-19 dashboard and public interface to keep both Tufts and our host communities informed. However, this dashboard is incomplete — namely, Tufts does not publish raw cases daily. The university also neglects to provide COVID-19 data in a visual manner, which would help Tufts students understand historical trends.

These issues and lack of clarity ultimately led to the creation of the Daily’s COVID-19 dashboard in February 2021. In an ideal world, the Daily’s dashboard would be obsolete, and the university would cover all information pertinent to the health and well-being of students. 

Because the administration does not report how many cases occurred in a single day, Tufts community members are unable to track COVID-19 updates in a timely manner. The Daily has sought to calculate these raw new case numbers each day. Based on these figures, the Daily has also calculated a seven-day trailing average. By tallying the seven-day case numbers, the developers of the COVID-19 dashboard have run into issues where the Daily’s calculated total does not match the one Tufts provides. Isolation data suffers from similar calculation difficulties. Yet, so long as Tufts accurately reports updates on its dashboard day by day, these numbers should match; however, these discrepancies make our job of providing correct and timely updates to the community difficult.

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Last February, when Tufts was averaging only about five new cases a day, the number of cumulative positive cases — a metric that should only increase — went down by 20 cases in one day, meaning the university was retroactively taking cases out of the positive pool. Today, when Tufts experiences much higher numbers, this is much harder to detect. We are committed to providing the most accurate COVID-19 data possible, but based on all the available data, it’s unclear to both the Daily and the Tufts community when testing anomalies like this occur, or even if they still do.

The irony is that Tufts likely has this daily COVID-19 case data; the university is just not providing it to students and the community on its public dashboard. Tufts reports data on the number of tests performed, positive cases, percent positivity and the percent of new cases identified for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 dashboard. Other university dashboards, like those at Cornell and Harvard, publish information on daily case counts. 

We understand the difficulties of updating COVID-19 data, especially as Tufts faculty, students and staff have changed testing cadence and students have been pulled in and out of testing pools amid the two years of pandemic life. These measures are complicated and technical epidemiological metrics, but they’re also vital to the health of our community. The university should be providing this information in an accessible manner for the well-being of its students and staff.

Especially as the university moves to voluntary testing, COVID-19 data transparency is more important than ever. Voluntary testing means a large number of cases will likely go undetected, and given that a large number of in-person events are set to occur at the end of May, including commencement and alumni reunions, Tufts students should be informed to the fullest extent on the limited data on COVID-19 that Tufts will still be collecting.

With insufficient data given by the administration, the Daily has been forced to overextend its role as a bridge between the administration and the student body, and this lack of communication outside the realm of the pandemic similarly does a disservice to the Tufts community. Especially given the recently announced consolidation of the Somerville Journal and the Medford Transcript, these issues not only just affect Daily reporting but also students’ broader understanding of issues impacting our campus and communities.

As the student newspaper of record at Tufts, it is important that we are able to get the clearest picture possible of news, events and developments on and around campus. This requires that we speak with administrators so that our reporting can be as full and correct as possible. Otherwise, we risk misleading our readers with an incomplete picture of administrative decisions.

While we understand that the conversations and discourse that may arise from the reporting of these topics may be controversial or uncomfortable, it is truly important that these dialogues occur. Tufts cannot grow and improve as an institution without them, and our community merits clear communication from the university on these central issues.

It is our duty as journalists to provide all members of the Tufts community with the most accurate, up-to-date information about not just the current COVID-19 numbers but every decision made by the university that could alter student life. In this transitional period at the end of the semester, we urge the university to finally take the steps to provide the clear, accessible health data they should have made available at the beginning of the pandemic.

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