Top health official says MSU releasing inaccurate COVID case data
EAST LANSING – Ingham County’s top health official says Michigan State University isn’t giving a full picture of positive COVID-19 cases tied to the university despite having more complete information.
Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail yesterday reported 1,250 cases tied to MSU; the university’s own dashboard only reported 528 confirmed cases of the virus.
Vail questioned the completeness of MSU’s dashboard, saying her figures better represent the spread of COVID among the campus community.
“The university is using basically cases that get reported to them by students as well as cases that are tested in their clinics,” Vail said.
The health department’s figure includes any student, faculty or staff member who tests positive for COVID, Vail said.
Spartan Stadium on the MSU campus is used as a COVID-19 testing site on what would normally be game day Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. (Photo: Robert Killips | Lansing State Journal)
“We’re aware of the discrepancy,” MSU spokesman Dan Olsen said Wednesday. “We don’t dispute her numbers.”
MSU is working with the health department to post the most accurate figures related to the outbreak, Olsen said. The university created the dashboard in July and is developing a new iteration that better captures cases.
“We’ll continue to improve upon our dashboard,” Olsen said.
Vail said she’s talking to MSU about including the health department’s data instead of just its own. She said the department has better figures because it gathers information directly from patients.
“That I think is where the university is kind of confused right now. We are the public health system. We do contract tracing, we do case investigations, we are talking to students on the phone,” Vail said.
An MSU-related case is marked if someone says they are a student or work at the university, she said.
“I feel very confident in these numbers,” Vail said.
MSU’s dashboard does list a caveat that its figures might not include all COVID cases tied to the university.
“These numbers reflect only those who have been tested and self-reported to the university or those the university becomes aware of through campus testing sites or local health departments, so it will not include all cases connected to the MSU community,” a note on the dashboard reads.
Vail said she’s suggested MSU should just use her numbers or remove the statement on the dashboard that indicates the university is getting information from the health department.
“I probably have a far more accurate count than you do,” Vail said.
Vail said health privacy laws prevent the department from handing its information over to the university without a specific need. She said her staff has worked with the university if they’ve needed to confirm someone is a student at MSU.
Contact reporter Craig Lyons at 517-377-1047 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @craigalyons.
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