Amidst unprecedented COVID-positivity, dashboard becomes increasingly ambiguous

COVID cases at Carnegie Mellon surged to a record-breaking high this month. Since April 1, 370 students on campus have tested positive, compared to the second-highest count of 197 in February.

The convergence of the BA.2 variant, Carnival weekend, and recent mask-optional policy led to an unprecedented spike. Last week, the university said Isolation and Quarantine (IQ) Housing would only be offered to students with moderate or severe symptoms. All other positive students were instructed to isolate in place, even if their roommate did not test positive for COVID-19.

Following the announcement, the university made a distinct change to its COVID dashboard. Rather than reporting the percent of students in IQ Housing, it now reports “the total number of students who are currently isolating or quarantining in residential housing.” This means it’s no longer possible to know IQ Housing capacity.

On Wednesday, before the dashboard change was made, only 10 percent of IQ Housing — 12 students — was in use. Yet more than a hundred students living on campus were positive. Why were so many students isolating in their dorms, when 90 percent of IQ Housing was available?

When The Tartan asked Peter Kerwin, the Director of Media Relations, he explained: That most cases are mild, "and these are the residential students who are isolating-in-place. This is in keeping with how residents have historically navigated communicable illnesses such as the flu or mononucleosis. Residential students at higher risk and/or with moderate-to-severe symptoms will continue to be temporarily relocated to our dedicated IQ housing locations.”

It was not made clear why the university would not tap into facility resources it has the capacity to fill. The university maintained its decision from last week that it would not provide a list of residence halls where students are — or are not — isolating. However, multiple residential advisors (RAs) said they would not be surprised if most if not all dorms are housing COVID-positive students.