To track COVID-19 vaccination rates on Temple University’s campus, Interim Chief Information Officer Larry Brandolph knew he and his colleagues at Philadelphia’s largest university, with nearly 40,000 students enrolled, had to work fast.
Last year, Lewis Katz School of Medicine developed a rapid testing process that allows students to visit a clinic, swab their own noses, and put their swab in a vial with a 3D barcode corresponding with their student ID in a box with other vials. The box goes to the medical school, which does testing that day, and results come the next day, Brandolph told Technical.ly.
“Early on, we needed a system to test COVID on campus,” he said. In fall 2020, “we did over 100,000 tests through that process via clinics on campus where students set appointments.”
While the testing protocol worked, Brandolph and his colleagues found they needed a more efficient system to track how many tests the university completes per week, as well as percentage of active cases, and how many students are vaccinated — especially once students were mandated to do to by Oct. 15.
Using the anonymized, aggregated data they collected, the Temple team built an online dashboard with Microsoft Power BI that displays COVID-19 surveillance figures. (Internally, the dashboard matches student data with compliance data, assessing whether or not students live on campus or off-campus and if they are in the attendance system.) The tech stack for the dashboard consists of a Microsoft SQL server and a Microsoft .NET application that Brandolph said he and his colleagues wrote.
Temple is also one of many colleges and universities to use Medicat, a digital data system typically used to track immunization records for student housing. It would play an integral role in the school’s COVID-19 data analysis as a source of data for the dashboard.
Students and employees can submit their COVID-19 vaccination status through the Medicat portal and specify whether their vaccination was made by Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson. As new vaccination cards are uploaded each day, Temple employees verify each vaccination card before it is approved by the system.
Brandolph explained that the dashboard can also help the campus track when to get their booster shots. The dashboard works as a compendium of data that includes people’s actual dates of vaccination making it easy to know when they’ll need their booster shots.
Meshing student’s personal data and medical information from Medicat for the dashboard was challenging in that it involved making sure HIPAA rules aren’t violated, as was making sure that stats that change daily are always accurate, Brandolph said.
“We hire people every week,” he said. The work involves “lots of reporting, extracts and analysis of data.”
Brandolph credits his Temple colleagues with maintaining the system. From reporting teams to data verification teams, numerous employees helped make the dashboard a viable resource: “Without that level of people dedicated to doing this work, we could have never gotten to the point we’ve gotten to,” he said.
Philadelphia’s healthcare and higher education vaccine mandate has only increased the need for Temple’s vaccination tracking system.
“Once the city mandate came in that you can’t be a student in the city unless you’re vaccinated or with a waiver, it became critical for us to track to the nth degree,” Brandolph said.
To spread information about vaccinations and testing among unvaccinated students, Temple uses its Listserv and mass-texting system to communicate with them. Looking beyond the pandemic, Brandolph hopes Temple’s work in managing vaccination data via technology can serve as a case study in how to use data to help people.
“What comes of this in the future is how we’re using data to make decisions,” he said.
Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.-30-