A comparison of Eastern Kentucky University’s COVID-19 case numbers to those of surrounding universities shows that EKU’s “Colonel Comeback Plan” has been relatively successful at slowing the spread of the coronavirus on campus. When EKU reopened in mid-August, many students and employees were concerned with how administrators would manage a socially distanced and contagion-free learning environment, particularly within residence halls and communal areas.
Many students chose not to return to campus at all, enrolling in online classes that they could take from the safety of their own homes without falling behind on their track to graduation.
Compared to the total number of cases reported by surrounding universities and the counties in which they are located, though, EKU seems to have maintained relative safety for its students.
As of Oct. 13, EKU’s online COVID-19 dashboard reports 221 total cases, including residential and non-residential students as well as employees. According to Governor Andy Beshear’s office (as reported on The Lexington Herald-Leader’s website), Madison County has reported 2,058 total cases, meaning EKU accounts for approximately 10.7 percent of the county’s numbers.
However, EKU is currently operating on a self-report system, meaning cases are only tracked if infected persons choose to report themselves. EKU students were not required to take a COVID-19 test before returning to campus, so these numbers do not account for possible asymptomatic carriers or those who were infected and did not fill out a self-report form.
Nevertheless, an inquiry into Morehead State University’s case numbers shows that EKU is doing comparatively well. MSU claims to have had 97 total cases as of Oct. 13, according to its online dashboard. Governor Beshear’s office reports that Rowan County, where MSU is located, has had 307 cases, meaning MSU accounts for approximately 31.5 percent of the county’s total—a 20.8 percent increase from EKU’s numbers. Like EKU, MSU is operating on a self-report system and did notrequire students to take a COVID-19 test before returning to campus.
Northern Kentucky University reports its cases on its dashboard. NKU reports active cases within its service-region in the Greater-Cincinnati Area, referred to as NKY. The university reports 1,035 cases in NKY as of Oct. 13, compared to 974 cases within Campbell County as reported by the governor’s office. Because the NKY figure represents multiple different counties, NKU’s percentage of Campbell County’s total cases is difficult to accurately determine.
As expected for its larger student population, the University of Kentucky’s case numbers are the highest of those reported here, although it did require students to take a COVID-19 test before returning to campus, so asymptomatic carriers are also included in its totals.
As of Oct. 13, UK reports 2,168 total cases on campus. Governor Beshear’s office reports 9,385 cases in Fayette County, meaning UK accounts for approximately 23.1 percent of the county’s numbers—a 12.4 percent increase of EKU’s percentage.
Looking at these numbers, some EKU students are pleased with the university’s response to the coronavirus.
McKenzie Howard, a residential sophomore and chemistry major, said EKU’s relatively low case numbers have made her feel much better about returning to school this semester.
“At first, like everybody, I was confused and upset [with EKU’s response to the virus],” she said. “But after seeing the numbers compared to other schools, I think [EKU] has done really well.”
Howard is not significantly worried about living on campus this semester, although she does check the online dashboard once a week and believes the university should have required students to test for COVID-19 before returning to campus.
On the other hand, some EKU professors are not satisfied with how the university is reporting its data. Zek Eser, associate professor of finance, claims that EKU’s dashboard does not communicate its numerical data very well. He wishes that its charts were clearer and conveyed its information more responsibly, citing that the average viewer looking at the university’s dashboard would not know how to appropriately interpret the data.
“Raw data is there, and that’s fine,” he said. “But the responsibility of the maker of a website doesn’t end with just providing raw data. You want to tell a story.”
Eser keeps his own chart of the data, compiling EKU and Madison County’s numbers together in a way that is much more indicative of the situation on campus.
“The 14-day sum [of EKU’s cases] has been going up since thetwenty-first of September,” he said, referencing this chart, “but in the meantime, Madison County’s numbers are going down. Would you have surmised any of this just by looking at EKU’s website? Of course not.”
Like many students and professors, Eser also questions EKU’s decision against mandatory COVID-19 testing for students.
“That may be a budget issue—I understand that,” Eser said. “But as far as I know, the federal budget—the CARES Act—pays for the cost of any tests you do. So why aren’t we forcing our students who are determined by contact-tracing [to be possible positives] to be tested?”
Despite his concern about how the university is reporting its data, Eser does not believe EKU will shut down again this semester. He points out that approximately two percent of residential students have contracted the virus so far and that closing campus again will be too financially burdensome on the university. However, he does believe that EKU should ramp up its enforcement of social distancing policies on campus, based on its rising number of cases.
At the state-wide level, COVID-19 continues to plague Kentuckians. As of Oct. 13, the Governor’s office reports that Kentucky has reached 83,272 total cases which have resulted in 1,255 deaths.
At the national level, the United States’ total case numbers are quickly approaching eight million while President Trump continues to downplay the virus’s seriousness after claiming to recover from it himself earlier this month. The President likely contracted the virus during a recent Rose Garden event in which several White House officials were also infected.