Biostatistics and Epidemiology Team Develops UMass Amherst COVID-19 Dashboard

UMass Amherst BIO-EPI faculty Laura Balzer and Andrew Lover

Laura Balzer (left) and Andrew Lover

August 30, 2020

As part of a broader campus response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a Biostatistics & Epidemiology team comprised of Laura Balzer, Andrew Lover, and James Peng has designed and will maintain the UMass Amherst COVID-19 Dashboard. The dashboard, launched on August 21, was developed to empower key campus stakeholders and the community at large to track public health data. 

“We intend the dashboard to provide simple, useful, and critical indicators to enable an evidence-based response to COVID-19 -- both on-campus and in our home communities,” says Balzer. “These data are essential, not only for monitoring the campus situation, but also for keeping the broader community informed.”

To ensure a swift and impactful public health response, UMass Amherst is conducting both asymptomatic and symptomatic virological testing. More information about the COVID-19 testing programs can be found at UMass Amherst COVID-19 Testing Programs.

“The Public Health Promotion Center at Mullins, the hub for asymptomatic virologic testing, is a huge public health achievement,” notes Lover. “Testing is free, fast and easy. The Center grew out of a cross-campus consortium, including UHS, the School of Nursing, and SPHHS, and essentially acts as a city-scale department of health for testing, analysis, and response.”

The COVID-19 dashboard incorporates data from a number of sources, all part of the larger campus COVID-19 surveillance and response program. It provides the following metrics to continuously monitor and respond to the evolving situation:

  • Daily snapshots of all COVID-19 tests performed and new positive cases
  • The total number of tests performed since the start of asymptomatic testing on August 6th 
  • The total number of positive cases since August 6th
  • The cumulative and weekly positivity rates, which are important to monitor for any changes in transmission
  • The test result turnaround time, as early initiation of case investigation and contact tracing are essential for rapid care of positive cases and prevention of onward transmission

“This project was a key part of the recommendations from the Health Fall Working Group convened by Chancellor Subbaswamy and co-chaired by Deputy Chancellor Goodwin and Jeff Hescock, executive director of Environmental Health and Safety and Emergency Management,” remarks Lover. 

Balzer and Lover are also members of the UMass Amherst Public Health Response Team, which meets daily to review the dashboard, discuss national data and trends, proactively identify potential challenges, and plan adaptive public health measures. Additionally, the pair serves on the university’s Epidemiologic Advisory Committee, which meets weekly to discuss overarching issues and make recommendations to campus leadership. 

“Throughout, we have been drawing on some lessons learned from other epidemics, such as HIV,” says Balzer. “It’s not just testing; we need testing with follow-up and compassionate care. Blaming and shaming students for being young adults will not work. Community buy-in and community engagement are essential for a strong public health response.”

As of August 27th, UMass Amherst had conducted over 13,000 tests, averaging more than 1000/day with >80% of results returned within one day.