System upgrade from local health departments affect WKU’s COVID-19 case count

Barren River District Health Department

Leo Bertucci

WKU hasn’t received any COVID-19 case data from the Barren River District Health Department since its system started upgrading on Aug. 28.

Six data points on WKU’s COVID-19 case dashboard have an asterisk next to them, which signifies a variable that is affecting WKU’s positive COVID-19 case count.

“Because of a system upgrade, data from the Barren River District Health Department is not currently available for the current reporting period,” the statement on the WKU dashboard reads.

Bob Skipper, Director of Media Relations, said in a statement that the Barren River District Health Department is not currently able to provide data to WKU because of an “ongoing transition to their contact tracing software.”

WKU currently receives COVID-19 case data from the Graves Gilbert Clinic and Med Center Health. Self-reporting also contributes to the data on WKU’s dashboard.

Skipper said that he does not know if WKU’s COVID-19 positive case count would be higher if the Barren River District Health Department could provide their reporting data to the university. 

Ashli McCarty, a spokesperson for the Barren River District Health Department, said that the Barren River District Health Department is transitioning to a COVID-19 case information software that mimics what the Kentucky Department of Public Health is using to track positive cases.

“That’s the reason for the lag,” McCarty said. “It’s thousands and thousands of input to manually enter.”

In addition to manually inputting thousands of data points, health department staff has to organize data by applying filters, McCarty said.

McCarty said that the Barren River District Health Department can only organize reported cases of COVID-19 by county.

“We don’t release any data that’s specific to a certain school,” McCarty said, referring to both grade schools and WKU.

In order to determine what positive cases of COVID-19 affected WKU’s campus, the university announced in May that it would be performing contact tracing in a partnership with the Barren River District Health Department. Skipper said that WKU has been able to perform contact tracing with the health department while the ongoing system upgrade continues.

McCarty said that the Kentucky Department for Public Health has the ability to track reported positive cases of COVID-19 that occur within the state’s colleges and universities.

As of Sept. 12, the state public health department has linked 199 positive cases of COVID-19 to the WKU campus community. According to the health department’s website, all of the reported cases of COVID-19 are confirmed through a verification process, so their case count might not align with case counts from other dashboards. WKU’s COVID-19 case dashboard has tallied 565 positive cases since July 1.

Skipper stated in an email that he is not sure where the Kentucky Department for Public Health is getting its data from.

“I can confirm the numbers we post and hope we will be able to be even more complete once we get data from Barren River,”Skipper said.

In a message to the campus community on Aug. 28, WKU President Timothy Caboni said that the number of positive COVID-19 cases could be higher if the Barren River District Health Department could provide their reporting data to WKU.

Until last week, WKU was updating its COVID-19 dashboard on a weekly basis. Now the dashboard is updated every Tuesday and Friday. Viewers can see how many cases were diagnosed during the new reporting period, and they can view the running total of positive COVID-19 cases that have been tallied since July 1.

Leo Bertucci can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @leober2chee.