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As infections at Arizona universities rise, so do questions about transparency

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(PHOENIX) — As of Saturday, the University of Arizona reported at least 1,148 COVID-19 infections among students and staff, 877 of them in the last 10 days, according to the university.

The outbreak is being driven by large off-campus parties where kids are not socially distancing or wearing masks, a university spokesperson told ABC News. U of A said it is testing on-campus students every week, in order to identify and quarantine asymptomatic cases. No students have been hospitalized because of the virus, according to the university. Despite increasing infections among students and staff, U of A said it’s not planning to revert to online learning.

Other major institutions, such as the University of Alabama and the University of Georgia, have public-facing COVID-19 tracking dashboards, where students, parents and the public can access at-a-glance data about infections and testing on campus. University spokesperson Holly Jensen told ABC News that while U of A is “a little bit behind the curve” on developing a COVID-19 dashboard, a tracking dashboard is under development and expected to go live early next week.

Transparency is very important to the university, according to Jensen. “I think where people get upset is that we’re not breaking the numbers down far enough,” Jensen said of the university’s COVID-19 online resources. The new dashboard should correct that, she added.

Universities that have reopened in person this fall have struggled with how much information to share with the public about COVID-19 infections among students and staff.

Across the state, Arizona State University’s lack of transparency about COVID-19 infection data has created tension between university officials and students. Despite reporting more than 1,413 infections among students, faculty and staff, ASU has no tracking dashboard.

“Knowing how many cases may be present in our community at one time does not give members of our community useful information about whether they particularly may need to take extra precautions,” an ASU spokesperson told The State Press, ASU’s student newspaper.

ASU has started publishing written reports on positive case counts among students and employees. “That’s our version of a dashboard,” Katie Paquet, an ASU spokesperson, told ABC News. The written reports will be updated twice a week and archived, so that the public can look at trends over time, according to Paquet. There are no plans for an ASU COVID-19 tracking dashboard in the works, she confirmed.

There have been more than 200,000 infections and 5,200 deaths in Arizona due to COVID-19, according to the state health department.

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