Staff Editorial: Testing wave disclosure indicates need for better communication

University should clearly define terms and thresholds for COVID-19 data

Staff Editorial: Testing wave disclosure indicates need for better communication


As students, staff and faculty settle into the fall semester, apprehension and excitement coexist. 

With indoor masking and a vaccine mandate, American University has taken precautions against a surge in cases on campus and in the surrounding area. Still, the recent testing wave across four floors in three residence halls in response to two positive COVID-19 cases indicates that the precautionary measures can only do so much. 

While the return to normalcy has been much anticipated, the University is still navigating the most effective way to deal with positive cases. In a situation involving health risks, one of the most important things the University can do is be clear about the terms they use to discuss this ongoing health crisis. While a growth in positive cases might be inevitable, the University can help the American University community feel the most prepared by defining the variety of terms and thresholds used to discuss the COVID-19 situation on campus. 

Various members of the administration have used similar language to discuss COVID-19 cases on campus, including “cluster,” “proximity” and “close contact.” When reporting the story of confirmed positives in residence halls, The Eagle used the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention definition of close contact to provide clarity. The University should clearly define this term in all communication relating to COVID-19 cases, especially when the term identifies the personal risk members of the AU community should feel after notification of a positive COVID-19 case. The University should explain what it classifies as a “cluster” in order to give the community a realistic understanding of the level of threat. The University should explain its threshold for determining what percentage of cases pose enough danger to switch operations to a hybrid system or completely online. The AU community has a right to be aware of these definitions as it moves through this unique semester. 

The overwhelming majority of the Eagle Editorial Board favored testing “out of an abundance of caution.” The University can also consider mandating regular testing for all people with a campus presence. 

AU’s Good Neighbor Policy is routinely used to remind the AU community of its commitment to the surrounding residents of D.C. Given the threat of the highly-transmissible delta variant, not mandating regular testing regardless of vaccine status can be seen as a threat to the surrounding community. 

The University’s decision to inform the community of the positive cases was necessary and it should continue to be as transparent as possible without violating the private health information of individuals. This transparency should include updating the COVID-19 dashboard to differentiate between on-campus and off-campus confirmed positive cases. Clear communication and guidelines prevents panic and allows individuals to better assess the risk to their health as everyone cautiously returns to a “normal” AU experience. 

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