Here’s why a positivity rate can’t be counted from WKU’s COVID dashboard

Hand sanitizer has been placed at entrances to all campus buildings at Western Kentucky University in order to help stop the spread of COVID-19 during the Fall 2020 semester.

Laurel Deppen

WKU’s weekly-updated coronavirus case dashboard states that 462 tests have been conducted for the campus community and that 206 individuals have been confirmed positive. However, these data cannot show a percent-positive rate.

The university is only able to account for the number of tests performed by the on-campus Graves Gilbert Clinic and Med Center Health.

Bob Skipper, director of media relations, said any positivity rate would be “a guess,” because WKU only receives information on positive cases, not total number of tests, from other providers.

“We don’t know how many tests have been performed outside of the ones that have been done that we can substantiate,” Skipper said.

The number of tests conducted elsewhere aren’t included in the dashboard. The tests marked positive, however, are included in the total number of positive cases.

The positive cases discovered outside the two WKU test providers are included in the total count either through self reporting or contact tracing.

Last Friday, WKU reported 19 new cases of COVID within the campus community, but Skipper said none of those tests were conducted on campus.

“It was never meant to provide any kind of positivity rate,” Skipper said.

If that were the case, the percent positive for last period, Aug. 7-13, would be about 14%.

Skipper noted many people had made this mistake, and the dashboard now includes clarifying language about where the numbers come from.

Skipper said a positive percentage rate for WKU wouldn’t be possible without each test provider reporting the number of tests administered and confirming each recipient’s affiliation with the university. 

The university doesn’t know of on-campus affiliation from these outside tests until the health department begins contact tracing.

Skipper said the university included the amount of tests conducted on the dashboard to show how many people were taking advantage of its free testing.

Since July 1, the university has reported a total of 206 positive cases among students, faculty and staff. Of these, 175 are students, and 31 are faculty. 

The next scheduled update is Friday.

Editor-in-Chief Laurel Deppen can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @laurel_deppen.