New York Times conflates UAB Medicine COVID cases with cases at the university itself
The New York Times has seemingly smeared the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).
The publication on Wednesday published nationwide data that purports to track COVID-19 cases “at U.S. Colleges and Universities.”
“As college students and professors return to campus in the midst of a pandemic, coronavirus cases are turning up by the thousands,” the article began. “A New York Times survey of more than 1,500 American colleges and universities — including every four-year public institution, every private college that competes in N.C.A.A. sports and others that identified cases — has revealed at least 26,000 cases and 64 deaths since the pandemic began.”
Included in the article is an interactive map with all of the data, as well as a list of the schools supposedly with the most cases.
UAB is at the very top of that list, with the New York Times making it look like the university has had the most COVID-19 cases of any higher education institution in the country since January 1.
However, that framing is grossly misleading upon examination.
Per the very data made public by the university and available to the publication, UAB has had only 148 students (0.67% of the student body) and 91 faculty and staff (1.5% of that total population) test positive in 2020 to-date. This is a total of 239 total positive cases this year for UAB’s non-clinical population.
Yet, the New York Times tacked on to those numbers — which would be relatively very low nationally if left to stand on their own.
The publication’s list — and mapped data — includes cases from UAB Medicine’s clinical operations, including UAB Hospital and other medical facilities.
In a statement, a spokesperson for UAB pointed out that the New York Times’ numbers “do not appear to be apples-to-apples comparisons of colleges and universities.”
“While the story is about ‘colleges and universities’ it combined UAB’s university numbers with those of our clinical enterprise. The article does not appear to have done the same with data from other institutions,” the spokesperson advised. “UAB’s clinical enterprise – which includes UAB Medicine, more than 17,500 employees and one of the nation’s largest hospitals, and welcomes more than 1.6 million patient visits a year – has provided vital healthcare services throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes our healthcare providers on the frontlines who have cared for more than 1,100 hospitalized COVID-positive patients, as well as additional COVID-positive patients cared for in out-patient, ambulatory settings.”
Additionally, the New York Times’ method of data collection in this case — voluntarily surveying institutions or relying on data already voluntarily published by schools — rewards those colleges and universities who have chosen not to be transparent.
“By its own admission, the data is flawed: ‘Given the disparities in size and transparency among universities, this data should not be used to make campus-to-campus comparisons,’ the article reads. Yet a comparative list of institutions is presented,” UAB’s spokesperson added.
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn