August 19, 2020

Warren, Smith, and Murphy Call on Health Agencies To Require "Complete, Transparent, and Timely National Reporting of COVID-19 Cases" on College Campuses

Currently no national reporting standards exist for COVID-19 outbreaks linked to college campuses Some colleges have already shut down in-person classes or been hit by outbreaks

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senators and Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee members Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), wrote to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requesting that the agencies issue detailed guidance for colleges and universities for reporting COVID-19 cases. 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. 

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 survey. A New York Times survey of four-year colleges and universities linked nearly 6,000 COVID-19 cases to campuses, with 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.

"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.

In their letter, the senators urge HHS and CDC to provide further guidance 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. It also asks whether the agencies have plans to aggregate and publish data, including demographic data, as well as how they plan to study outbreaks in order to understand the effectiveness of different mitigation strategies. Finally, it asks whether and how HHS and CDC have coordinated with the U.S. Department of Education regarding COVID-19 data collection at institutions of higher education. 

Senator Warren has repeatedly called for more detailed national COVID-19 data reporting in order to treat and contain the virus and address how the virus is disproportionately impacting communities of color. She has taken a close look at the need for better reporting standards and protections in congregate settings like schools, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, addiction treatment centers, prisons, and workplaces such as meatpacking plants.