Colleges struggle to maintain student privacy while reporting COVID-19 data

Colleges are caught in between transparency and privacy concerns as they establish COVID-19 data reporting procedures, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The Clery Act requires higher educational institutions that received federal funding to disclose immediate threats to the safety of their faculty and student body. However, HIPAA and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act inhibit these schools from fully reporting COVID-19 data, as they protect personal health data and student records.

In March, the U.S. Education Department released interim guidelines for FERPA, allowing schools to share students' identifiable information with appropriate parties during the pandemic. It urged colleges to determine their COVID-19 reporting on a case-by-case basis.

The frequency and style of COVID-19 data reporting varies greatly from school to school, but most schools holding in-person classes have scaled up testing, symptom tracking and contact tracing efforts.

A particularly emblematic example of the quandary colleges face came recently when the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reported four "clusters" of COVID-19 cases. The state's definition says five or more cases in close proximity constitute a "cluster," but outcry emerged when the school's weekly test results updates came out, as students discovered 130 new COVID-19 cases had emerged.

The backlash led UNC to close down its residence halls, move all courses online and restructure its data-sharing policies to feature cluster-specific case counts and daily updates.

"I'm scared because I don't like the way that information is being communicated right now," Annie Ferry, a UNC undergraduate, told The Wall Street Journal.

More articles on data analytics:
HHS says COVID-19 data reporting system won't go back to CDC
HHS tied billions in COVID-19 aid to reporting data through TeleTracking: 7 details
Former Florida health official, Google working on COVID-19 dashboard for US schools: 5 details

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