Christopher Newport alum constructs accurate university COVID-19 tracker

Leading to official university tracker improvements

~Anna Dorl, Editor-in-Chief~

Adam Fendley, Class of 2018, describes his undergraduate self as a “serial website maker” for Christopher Newport. So naturally, when he noticed the university’s official COVID-19 case tracker seemed inaccurate weeks before its recent update, he took matters into his own hands to create something more correct for the community.

On Sept. 2, he took to Twitter to share a new and improved case tracker website with the Christopher Newport community and with #CNUTwitter, receiving hundreds of impressions from students. Although he is an alum who said he has no use for the tracker himself, he chose to encourage more transparency in Christopher Newport’s experiences with COVID-19. He tweeted, “CNU’s COVID dashboard only shows today’s data (poorly) doesn’t show any historical numbers or trends, so I made one that does: cnucovidtracker.github.io. It’s updated once a day using the numbers from CNU’s website to track the positive cases over time on campus. (thread).”

Fendley’s tracker and Christopher Newport’s official tracker are separate entities, and Fendley’s is not affiliated with the university. But his tracker may have inspired Christopher Newport’s to become more developed, accurate and transparent in recent weeks for the sake of its students, faculty, and staff.

“One of the things that [the university] always tries to impart with you is, as the school matures and as there are more alumni who go out and do things, your degree from CNU becomes more and more valuable,” Fendley said. So it’s important to pay attention to what your alma mater is doing.”

As he constructed his tracker, he compared the efforts of other universities alongside Christopher Newport, to get a sense of information display differences. He became concerned that the university tracker dashboard only used a bar graph to display a single day’s cases, which led to his desire to create something that tracked cases over time and displayed multiple days. After the university’s update of their tracker, the bar graph format is still used, but more types of information are shown — this includes active cases and total cases, as well as the numbers of those in isolation and quarantine. Fendley also wanted the university’s tracker to be clearer about the terms they chose to use, which the new version of the tracker has amended. 

“CNU views itself as a very brick and mortar institution and not a digital powerhouse, but I think they should be,” Fendley said. “My goal in creating [my tracker] has been done in regards to helping public health and public safety.” 

Given the “comprehensive lack of transparency” and accuracy he noticed in the university’s tracker, he added that “[tracking cases] can obviously, clearly be done better.”

Fendley now works in open-source software. He said that through the creation of his tracker, he wanted to show that the data and information he used to build it were all open-source, meaning it is available for the public to view and use. His website displays it in a certain way, but once it is clicked on, the entirety of the raw data used in the site’s creation can be seen. “The presentation of the data may be misleading, but the data itself may be accurate,” he said.

“I do think this is a higher-level issue that needs to be addressed within CNU’s administration,” he continued. “If that presentation of data can get through enough levels of people saying ‘yup, this bare minimum is good enough,’ that to me shows a failure in leadership and existing on really high standards to keep people safe. I know the school has done a lot of other things they’ve talked about… how they’ve worked to plan [regarding COVID-19]. I know the different wings of CNU have extreme competency, but I think when it comes to this one specific area of information technology… [things are built] really quick to make people stop complaining, and that’s not necessarily the way it should be.”

When asked if Christopher Newport adapted its official tracker to make it more accurate because of him, Fenldey laughed and said, “I don’t know, I’ll say yes, probably. I hope not, honestly. I hope this was being planned for a while, but it’s hard to know because their Twitter account never engaged with mine. I hope that this is something that has been in the works the whole time.”

He added, “I’m planning to stop publishing my own [tracker] since CNU is doing it now because I want to respect them, and I don’t want to undermine the university.”

Now, Fendley’s tracker and Christopher Newport’s tracker are both accurate ways to interpret and understand the university’s active numbers of COVID-19 cases, ultimately working together to keep the student body and campus community as safe and healthy as possible.

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