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Auburn parents, students say university COVID information’s ’jumbled’ and insufficient

With her daughter at Auburn, Loren Traylor searched Auburn’s website for information on COVID-19. She came up with nothing. While it might be there, it’s not easy for her to find, and if she can’t find it, she believes there are definitely other parents having the same difficulty.

Traylor’s daughter’s classes are all online, but she has two in-person labs. With the amount of information Traylor has, she doesn’t know how safe her daughter is in Auburn compared to Birmingham.

“I would not feel equipped to make a decision on whether to keep her there or bring her home,” Traylor said. “I have no idea how bad the situation is there because most of my information is anecdotal.”

Unlike her mother, Olivia Traylor receives COVID-19 updates from Auburn in emails. However, the emails don’t feel adequate. As cases rise on campus — they reported 517 in the second week of classes — the emails up until this point have failed to include a case count or update on what Auburn is thinking.

“I feel like any information about the virus has just been kind of thrown in there,” Olivia Traylor said. “I feel like (the emails) should have huge headlines that say ‘Update on numbers’ or ‘Update on classes.’ I just feel like if they are sending out more information than I’ve seen, it’s not being portrayed as it should. It’s not being like ‘Alert! Alert! Alert! This is an issue.’ “

An Auburn University spokesperson said that it has started a new social media campaign featuring Auburn Medical Clinic Director Fred Kam. It has two websites, A Healthier U and the COVID Resource Center, to add to the social media posts, and it also has an email newsletter. Olivia Traylor said she knows students unsubscribe to the newsletter or have it sent to their junk mail.

Graduate student John Elmer said the emails seem like a “stream of consciousness.” He also used the words “jumbled” and “trickle” to describe them. Lately, he has noticed the tone seems to have shifted, placing the focus more on the students and their personal responsibility.

They seem almost patronizing, graduate student Adam Davila said. They’re full of messages like “We’re going to be safer together” rather than test rates and positivity rates. Davila wants to see test rates and positivity rates.

Auburn is currently updating its case count once a week, and it is not including the total number of people tested. An Auburn spokesperson said the test results from the clinic take two hours to 48 hours to come back, depending on the type of test, but they don’t report them until they “allow the needed time for proper verification and an accurate compilation of statistics and to provide a consistent reporting timeline.” The numbers are for the week before, a delay that parents and students are not satisfied with.

“I can’t make an informed decision one week in arrears,” Loren Traylor said.

Davila doesn’t understand why the number can’t be updated every day. The school had time to hire a team to work on COVID-19 communication, and the government provided additional money for COVID-19 expenses. Even if all the test results don’t come back in, Auburn should just report what it has each day, Davila said.

“That seems like it would be pretty reasonable,” Davila said. “A week is too long to be useful.”

Elmer and Olivia Traylor pointed out that many other apps, social media sites and news outlets have the ability to update case counts much more frequently. The University of North Carolina, which has almost 30,000 students, has a dashboard that updates daily Monday through Friday.

Since the emails aren’t informative, and there’s no centralized location for Auburn’s COVID-19 information — a page on one of the school’s most-used apps or sites would be helpful, Olivia Traylor said — people are relying on other sources outside the school for information.

Olivia Traylor gets her information through the student newspaper, the Auburn Plainsman, or through her friends. Davila gets his from his program, not that the faculty seems to be that much better informed. Steve McClinton, the father of two Auburn students, also looks at parent Facebook pages.

“And half of that stuff is probably rumor and innuendo anyways,” McClinton said.

The numbers Auburn has reported — 207 cases at the main campus the first week and 498 the second — do not seem accurate to anyone, either. Loren Traylor had some choice words for it. The university said that its numbers do not include the students who are taking tests at places other than the med clinic unless it’s self-reported. Olivia Traylor said she needs to know the numbers so she can assess the risks of certain activities.

While the case count is a big deal, there are many other areas where they could use more information. Elmer said he didn’t know one of his classes was online until the day of. Neither Olivia Traylor and Davila know what the options are for students who don’t have COVID-19 but also don’t feel comfortable attending class or lab.

When Davila’s girlfriend tested positive for COVID-19, Davila wanted guidance to see if he should wait until her quarantine was over or go out and get a test. He called the provided Auburn Medical Clinic hotline number for three days without an answer. His friends who also came in contact with the couple had similar experiences.

Auburn Medical Clinic Director Dr. Fred Kam responded to the initial five-fold increase the first week as well as the 517 added cases in the second week by saying that it was expected. According to multiple parents and students interviewed by AL.com, that response was not satisfactory. Elmer and Davila described it as an empty response.

“Just because you expect it to go up doesn’t mean it has to go up as much as it does or that it has to maintain a positive trend,” Elmer said.

The situation has been disappointing, Loren Traylor said. People send their children to Auburn so they can be a part of the Auburn family.

“Families take care of each other,” Loren Traylor said. “And I don’t feel like this family is taking care of each other right now.”

Related articles:

Auburn University’s COVID-19 case count rises to 517

Alabama adds almost 1,000 new coronavirus cases

Auburn reports 9 positive COVID-19 tests during ‘challenging week;’ 16 players out this week


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