There are multiple resources available to the public for tracking how many cases of COVID-19 are in a community.
Southern Arkansas University (SAU) tracks the number of students and faculty with positive tests and updates their data multiple times a day. The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement (ACHI) shows active cases by school districts, zip code and by community (city). The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) has multiple reports that cover educational institutions, case demographics, nursing homes, congregate settings as well as contact tracing reports and weekly case investigation reports.
While multiple institutions collect and report COVID-19 data, the reports based on those data that are produced by the ADH sometimes differ from the local institution reporting the data.
For example, the ADH’s Sept. 3 higher-education institutions COVID report shows that SAU had only 12 active cases, while SAU reported 38 active cases. In the case of the University of Arkansas (UA), the ADH reported 153 active cases for the university when UA was reporting 399 active cases on that same day. The ADH’s report notes that some data may be incomplete.
The same discrepancies are shown in county-level data.
At 5 p.m. on Sept. 4, SAU reported 38 active cases while the ADH reported 22 active cases in Columbia County at that same time. SAU also boasts a rapid-testing machine on campus; results from those tests are considered “presumed positives” and are not counted among the confirmed cases reported by the ADH in county-level data updates.
Only four of the active cases remained at SAU housing facilities in isolation; the rest are quarantined off-campus, according to SAU’s COVID 19 Data Dashboard.
A spokesperson for the ADH stated that students who are testing positive for COVID-19 should be registering their tests with their home of residence. The active cases that are quarantined off-campus will be counted as active cases in the county of their primary residence, despite their “active” status occurring at SAU. This means that the total number of active cases physically in Columbia County on Sept. 3 was in the range of 27 to 66, depending on whether any of the SAU active cases lived in Columbia County.
The ADH’s school report, which details public schools and universities, also only lists schools with at least five confirmed or probable cases. The report states that counts of less than five cases are not reported to protect patient confidentiality.