BYU begins fall semester with high hopes and expectations during COVID-19 02

Rigby Budge takes a break from studying to share a meal with his wife, Tayla Budge, on the campus of Brigham Young University in Provo during the first day of the Fall 2020 Semester on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020. Rigby is a sophomore studying mechanical engineering, and Tayla is a junior studying political science and statistics. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

After observing the number of self-reported COVID-19 cases almost double after Labor Day weekend, BYU has shifted their COVID-19 reporting to a weekly total instead of daily.

This shift comes after the second week of school with the total case count more than doubling from the first week of instruction.

This change in COVID-19 reporting has brought up some concerns of transparency from the university in the campus community.

Todd Hollingshead, BYU media relations manager, said in an email the shift is designed to bring more accuracy, while also aligning with other higher education institutions and their reporting methods.

“BYU’s contact tracing team continues to receive positive reports each day and manages those cases when they are reported,” Hollingshead said in an email. “By reporting weekly, we provide a more accurate picture, which takes into consideration daily case counts that may be high or low.”

Many students have been outspoken on social media about the change while some have created a petition titled, “COVID transparency at BYU.”

“Following significant spikes in self-reported COVID-19 cases in the campus community and the ensuing negative press, Brigham Young University has made a change — though not one we would’ve liked,” the petition reads. “Their change now makes the case count less transparent by switching from daily public updates to weekly updates. We demand a return to more frequent updates (at least daily) to inform the public of the most current conditions on campus and within the campus community.”

The petition also calls for the updates to be more often in order to hold BYU and its administration accountable for timely responses.

Kevin Shafer, an Associate Professor in Sociology and Director of Canadian Studies at Brigham Young University characterized the change as confusing.

“I think the university has been transparent and has been providing updates and information to us, I think the change is just confusing from my perspective,” Shafer said.

He also said that he understands how some in the campus community could feel as though the move was one that took a step back in terms of transparency.

Shafer also understood the other side of the debate, one in which the university may be concerned with students or the public reading too much into daily case numbers. He brought up other ways to address those concerns through additional information.

That might include a seven-day rolling average, the number of tests done and the positivity rate of the tests. He said other universities, in particular Ohio State University, have all of these numbers accessible on their dashboard.

“I think people make decisions based off of the data,” Shafer said. “While I understand they want to provide a clear picture of what is happening each week and I understand they don’t want to be subjected to the fluctuations of daily data, I can totally understand that perspective but on the other hand I think for a lot of folks anxiety has increased because we are not getting an updated picture of what things look like on campus. For a lot of folks that I have talked to, students, staff and faculty, there is some concern that now we are sort of in the dark as to what is happening.”

While BYU did move to report their COVID-19 case numbers on a weekly basis, the university also added data to its COVID-19 case management page.

The page now includes total cases reported, cases no longer in isolation and active cases with the percentage of the campus community in those categories. There was also a weekly total added as well as a daily average for the first two weeks of instruction.

“The more information we have, the better,” Provo City Council member and BYU professor George Handley said. “We’re trying very hard to understand what is happening in the community and whether or not the spread we are starting to see among the students is having any impact on the community. We certainly care about the case spread among students but we know that because they are more resilient generally, to the degree that we see that spread we are hoping it can be contained and managed.”

The BYU COVID-19 case numbers will be updated on Friday of each week.