Boston in the Red, an Article by Five BU Public Health Experts, and the Dashboard

On Wednesday this week, Boston moved into the official red zone for coronavirus risks, reflecting a rising replication rate in MA in general. BU’s weekly COVID-19 report notes that the number of positive results at BU increased last week, and Associate Provost Gloria Waters is quoted there as saying that she is “concerned about what we’ll see as we go into next week.”

Amongst other things, the increasing infection numbers mean that this would be a particularly good time for BU to revisit one of its policy decisions, previously criticized on this blog and elsewhere. Five professors from BU’s own School of Public Health this week published an article in Slate arguing that the science concerning aerosols tells us the policy at BU and elsewhere to not inform people who have been attending in person classes when other people in the class test positive should be rejected: “At minimum, we recommend that everyone in the classroom with a positive case be notified so that they can be instructed to quarantine or they can decide to quarantine in order to prevent additional community spread of COVID-19. This would be good public health policy.” Will BU listen to its own public health experts?

In other news this week, BU updated its COVID-19 Dashboard to finally display data for positive test results that use the number of people tested as a denominator, rather than only the number of tests. However, the dashboard only displays data of this kind in one place (in the area listing results for the last seven day period), and this is not the place where it is most needed.

The cumulative data from July 27 is still not being displayed with the right denominator. That is where the data most needs to be displayed in this way, as I explained back in late August. The percentage of positive tests there should keep going up (as the number of people tested stays roughly constant while the number of positive results steadily increases), but instead it will misleadingly keep going down (as the number of tests will keep rising and many people will keep getting negative results again and again, even if there are eventually so many positive results that the university community is obviously in crisis). 

Using the number of people tested in the last week, according to the data provided, I calculate that the positive rate for people tested since July 27 is 0.61% (rather than the 0.07% presently displayed). That would mean that 1 in every 162 people in the BU community has tested positive since July 27. No doubt 0.61% is a little too high because some people got tested in previous weeks but didn’t get tested during the last week. Suppose the correct percentage is 0.4%. That would still mean the 0.07% presently displayed is out by a factor of 5.7!

Finally, another professor at the BU School of Public Health (not one of the five authors of the article mentioned above) continues to point out important facts about test results at BU, and their ramifactions: