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Guest Column: Here’s A Health Carolina (You’re Going To Need It)

University’s handling of coronavirus pandemic is “not acceptable …”

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by BOBBY GRANT || Let me start out by saying I am a proud alumnus of the University of South Carolina, someone who absolutely cherishes the university – but it is not a love that is blind to its faults.  I will sing your high praises when you do right, but when you do wrong I will call you out.

Either way I will always be there to support you when you need it as the loyal devotee that I am. 

However, after the news that a single key employee got sick (who would have possibly expected someone could get sick in a PANDEMIC?) which suspended daily testing on campus until next Tuesday – after the Labor day parties – we need to talk.

Your handling of the novel Coronavirus 2019 is not acceptable.  You have good people doing the best that they can, but you are wasting it.

You brought the students back to campus too early.  It will be your original sin that you are perpetually trying to recover from.  You let Clemson outsmart you – they chose to wait and see if you failed before they brought their students back to campus, and they are being proven right.

Please refer back to your mission statement as needed: At the heart of its mission lies the university’s responsibility to state and society to promote the dissemination of knowledge, cultural enrichment, and an enhanced quality of life. 

Please do not use the excuse that the students’ behavior off-campus is their own fault, and they must have brought Covid19 from their hometown. Such excuses make you look weak.

South Carolina’s Covid19 outbreak has been thankfully improving for about the past month, but there is still pretty significant community spread in the Midlands – and both Richland and Lexington counties have been consistently listed by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) as having moderate-to-high incidence of Covid19 spread. 

So please do not argue that people brought it from out of state, because there are very few areas in the world that have a higher infection rate than South Carolina over the past month. 

If this was a concern, you should have required ALL students to be tested before being able to enroll for classes.  You require vaccination records, and you required it for all students in the dorms – so why couldn’t you have expanded that to be all students?  But alas, the point for that has long passed.

As to students behaving badly off campus, pardon my french, but what the hell did you expect?  Most of them are not old enough to choose to drink, but you are counting on them to act perfectly in what is in some cases their first taste of freedom from their parents.  I agree there is a need for personal responsibility, but do not deflect blame because you enabled them.  It was reckless and since you are punishing people for doing what you enabled them to do, you could make a case for entrapment.

From here on, I will be very direct regarding solutions that should be immediately implemented because rehashing the past is not helpful.

1. Admit you were wrong, don’t find a subordinate to be a scapegoat.

2. Team up with a local lab, and get testing back started, immediately, weekends included.

3. Provide a free option for all off-campus students who require quarantine to utilize university-provided quarantine housing (I recommend contracting out to local hotels since their business has been suffering, so there should be space).  You brought the people to the community, so let’s protect the community, and our own fellow Gamecocks the best we can.

4. Deliver free meals to ALL students who are currently in quarantine.  The idea that those who have a meal plan through the University have to leave quarantine and physically go to a campus pick up location for their food is reckless at best.  But I did say ALL didn’t I, well darn, there I go again expecting my alma mater to take care of all of those who have sworn loyal devotion (and lots of money) to them.  How silly of me.  Make some partnerships and some friends, and make the deliveries.

5. Institute daily updates of the dashboard, even if you don’t have a press release or town hall to go with it.  It keeps the Carolina family in the know, as well as the community.  I will assume that you meant no fault with the current schedule of releases on Tuesday and Friday, and that you weren’t trying to use that to hide from examination. 

  • The Tuesday release offers testing data from the Thursday and Friday from the prior week, and tries to lower the level of concern with data stopping at Sunday.  From your own policies, you only test those who are feeling ill and make appointments on the weekend, obscuring the totals, and making the trend look to be flattening.  The other update of the week on Friday includes the important testing days from Monday-Wednesday, but throws it in with the trash news cycle of Fridays when no on pays attention, which is especially clear because you release it near the close of business on Friday.  Further, you promise a 24 hour turn around on testing results, so why are tests from Monday morning not included in the Tuesday afternoon release?

6. Do not focus on lagging indicators of hospitalizations and deaths.  By the time someone is hospitalized, it is too late for a mitigation plan on your end.  From data from the past 6 months, hospitalizations usually follow 2 weeks after initial diagnosis, and deaths follow 2 weeks or so after that with symptoms seeming quite mild until they suddenly require hospitalization.

7. Fix the dashboard (As a professional data analyst, I understand the how the difficulty of creating a dashboard like this, but let’s get this right)

  • I will start with something that makes you look worse than you mean it to, in the Reporting period table, you list the total tests per period, total positive rate, and total negatives.  Change the Total Negatives to total positives. Since you are including pending tests in the testing total, it makes it look like the total positive rate is well in excess of 50 percent for the most recent time period, if you merely divide the total tests by the total negatives.
  • Immediately add a reference point to the graph for isolation and quarantine.  The graph went from 35 percent last Friday, to 60 percent this Tuesday, without mention that the total beds increased from 285 to 428.  This resulted in the current isolation amount to be 257, nearly the full capacity shown last week.  You need to be transparent with this sort of information.
  • List cases on the graph by day tested, not day of notification.  It shows the trend better.
  • Fix the weighting on the alert level.  The Campus was at the highest alert level possible for campus case burden on Tuesday, and there are only 1026 active cases.  That means you could have 50 percent of the campus be infected, and the alert level might not change if other factors did not move too.  Weighting for quarantine and the environmental monitoring both need to be increased as well. 

You have good people doing the best that they can, but you are only getting an 85 percent on a good day, but the problem is that an 85 percent is still failing when lives are on the line.  I don’t want you teaching our future doctors and engineers that they can be wrong 15 percent of the time and that is ok.  There are times when you are graded on a harsher curve.

As the University states in its mission statement, you have a responsibility to the state and society to promote … an enhanced quality of life.

I will leave you with these words that you may recognize from somewhere:

We hail thee, Carolina, and sing thy high praise;
With loyal devotion, rememb’ring the days,
When proudly we sought thee, thy children to be;
Here’s a health, Carolina, forever to thee!

Since pilgrims of learning, we entered thy walls,
And found dearest comrades in thy classic halls;
We’ve honored and loved thee, as sons faithfully;
Here’s a health, Carolina, forever to thee!

Generations of sons have rejoiced to proclaim
Thy watchword of service, thy beauty and fame
For ages to come shall their rallying cry be;
Here’s a health, Carolina, forever to thee!

Fair shrine of high honor and truth, thou shalt still
Blaze forth as a beacon, thy mission fulfill;
And be crowned by all hearts in a new jubilee;
Here’s a health, Carolina, forever to thee!

Bobby Grant is a 2013 graduate of the University of South Carolina. He currently works as a professional data analyst.

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