No National Reporting Standards Currently Exist for COVID-19 Outbreaks Linked to College Campuses

MINNESOTA [08/20/20]— U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.)—all members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee—are pressing the nation’s health agencies to issue detailed guidance for colleges and universities for reporting COVID-19 cases.

In a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Senators urged the agencies to provide direction to institutions of higher education about how COVID-19 cases should be reported to state, local, and federal health officials, including the timeline for reporting suspected and confirmed cases, demographic data that should be provided for each case, and how reporting should comply with applicable privacy laws. Their letter also asks how the federal health agencies plan to study outbreaks in congregate settings like institutions of higher education in order to understand the effectiveness of different mitigation strategies.

"Because of the susceptibility of college campuses to outbreaks and the frequency of student travel across state lines, we urge you to coordinate with state and local health officials to ensure complete, transparent, and timely national reporting of COVID-19 cases linked to institutions of higher education," the Senators wrote to HHS and CDC. 

"This lack of guidance is likely to create a patchwork of inconsistent information across states, localities, and the nation, undermining transparency and efforts to address the pandemic," the Senators continued.

Nearly 40% of higher education institutions plan to have at least some form of in-person instruction in the fall, with another 25% still working out their plans, according to a recent surveyNew York Times survey of four-year colleges and universities linked nearly 6,000 COVID-19 cases to campuseswith infections reported among students and support staff alike. Campuses including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Oklahoma State University have already seen clusters of infections among students who have returned to campus. The CDC's guidance for colleges and universities encourages coordination with local health officials, but it does not mandate reporting, nor does it specify a standardized format, level of detail, or frequency of reporting to authorities or disclosure to the public.

You can read a copy of the letter here.

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