PRN reporter uncovers 107 COVID-19 cases at Georgia State

Up until recently, Panthers were made to believe that only 18 COVID-19 cases were confirmed at Georgia State. The reality, however, was a much greater number.

According to Panther Report News, Georgia State had identified 107 COVID-19 cases between March 19 and August 14. That figure is nearly six times larger than the 18 cases reported by The New York Times on July 28.

What went wrong with the two data points, and how did Georgia State contribute to this misinformation?

PRN Reporter Kevin Sanchez-Farez broke the news about the inconsistencies in the number of COVID-19 cases reported on August 19. He shared his experience in obtaining the open record files that led to his discovery. Journalists typically have no issue obtaining these records, but this was not the case for Sanchez-Farez.

“I remember seeing The New York Times survey back in July and thinking that there is no possible way that the number of COVID-19 cases could be 18,” he said.

The information collected by The Times was only from student-athletes, who represent a small fraction of the overall student and staff population at Georgia State.

After an extensive back-and-forth with the Georgia State Office of Legal Affairs to obtain the records, Sanchez-Farez heard back with a response. 

“The information provided by individuals who voluntarily report their status to the university is not maintained in a de-identified manner and therefore cannot be provided,” according to the Office of Legal Affairs.

Sanchez-Ferez understood that either Georgia State may have had the information he was asking for and refused to provide it or they believed he was trying to uncover the anonymity of the students who participated in the article with The Times.

After a dead-end in contacting Georgia State, the reporter contacted the Student Press Law Center for the information on positive testings. The department was able to eventually share the required information but could not distinguish the cases between students and staff and the dates on which each individual was diagnosed.

As students prepare for an unpredictable semester ahead, a few weighed in on the matter and how they planned to attend classes this semester.

Students such as Ryan Reischer, a freshman at Georgia State, feel optimistic about the upcoming semester. As a commuter student from Gwinnett County, he understands the responsibility that students have in maintaining social distancing and wearing masks.

“Georgia State has done a good job in preparing for the semester with COVID-19 because it has outlined a plan … to respond correctly for students who are concerned about the risk,” Reischer said.

Thomas Wilson, a sophomore at Georgia State, was much more skeptical, recognizing the problem starting with opening student housing.

Thomas, who originally used to commute to campus, decided to transfer solely online to not risk exposing his family to COVID-19.

Though he wishes to have a normal college experience, he noted the inability to do that this semester.

“I see people my age partying and living like we’re not in the middle of a global pandemic, being irresponsible for their own safety and putting the [Georgia State] community at large in danger,” he said.