It All Adds Up

The UW contains infections with a coronavirus dashboard.

Students sit in a socially-distanced lecture hall

To keep COVID-19 from spreading throughout the community, the university tracks how many people have been infected, where they are, and where they aren’t. Jeff Miller

A pandemic isn’t merely a health problem — it’s also a data problem. To keep an illness like COVID-19 from spreading throughout a community, officials need to know how many people have been infected, where they are, and where they aren’t.

Before restarting in-person instruction in September, UW–Madison decided that it would make its data public and showed students, faculty, staff, and community members exactly how campus was doing in its effort to monitor the virus. The online coronavirus dashboard tracks how many tests the UW has administered to students and employees, shows how many are negative and positive, and indicates when those results apply to people on and off campus.

The dashboard was a key tool in illustrating why the UW made the decision to go virtual just a week after classes began: infections were on the rise, and the positivity rate climbed above 10 percent in the first half of September.

“The more that we can test our community,” Chancellor Rebecca Blank wrote at the launch of the dashboard, “the better control we have over infections.”

The dashboard earned a B+ grade from Yale University researchers, and it continues to give a picture of how the UW’s testing regimen is doing.

Published in the Winter 2020 issue

Tags: COVID-19 pandemic, Health and medicine, Public service, Student life, technology

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