Dashboard informs community of current COVID case levels

Maiya Florence-Harding, Staff writer

On Sept. 11 students received an email from vice president of Student Life and pandemic officer, Laura Zirkle, Ph.D. about a new COVID-19 dashboard.

Working closely with Web and Digital Communications manager Kyndra Zacherl, executive director of Wellness Judy Smith, and Residence Life and Student Conduct director Megan McKenna; Zirkle and the rest of the COVID response team consolidated the COVID-19 updates and put them in one central place.

They asked themselves “how could we have information put out about what the numbers are?” and thus the dashboard was born. The number of active cases on campus in the student, employee and “other” categories are front and center on the web page.

This table is updated in real time as soon as the response team gets updates. Beneath the table is a narrative that gets updated weekly, although older updates remain further down so that anyone can see where Mercyhurst is in terms of COVID cases, quarantine, etc. at any given time.

The narrative was an important development in the dashboard so that everyone can compare how well the campus community is doing in terms of cases from week to week. According to Dr. Zirkle, this is helpful so website visitors can compare where the school was from a month ago to today.

“We can see the historical context and the nuances in the numbers themselves,” Zirkle said.

This comparison shows how far the campus has come and the hope that numbers continue to decrease.

Each Tuesday the narrative is updated to inform students, employees and anyone else who may access the site about the number of people in quarantine and why they are in quarantine — whether it is due to an onset of symptoms, traveling to a high-risk state or close contact with an individual believed to have the virus.

It also mentions the number of new cases and whether they were believed to have been due to campus or outside exposure. This helps keep everyone safe and informed.

All terms are also defined beneath the narrative including the current Pennsylvania Department of Health Order.

There is a link to current “hotspot” states, so if members of the Mercyhurst community are going to travel they will know whether or not to quarantine before returning to campus.

The current COVID-19 24- hour hotline (814-824-3600) can also be found on the bottom of the page. This hotline is primarily to report suspected exposure or if you start to exhibit symptoms. However, it can also be called to ask questions or make a request.

Requests include face masks, empty sanitization stations, or a COVID test request. A lot of work went into this website to make it easily accessible to all. This included specifically deciding how to define quarantine and which statistics would be the most relevant, and in updating the site frequently.

Zirkle ended her email on a positive note. “With your continued dedication, I’m confident that day [where we won’t have to worry about exposure] will be here sooner rather than later. Again, my sincere thanks to you for your compliance thus far and your resolve in the days ahead.”

The new dashboard can be found at https://www.mercyhurst.edu/covid19/dashboard or through Mercyhurst’s Resilience and Resolve web page.