After the Thanksgiving break, the Director of Student Health at Bakersfield College, Dr. Charles Collom answered a series of inquiries about the current numbers of positive COVID-19 cases being recorded.
Dr. Collom first explained the necessity in understanding the difference between departments and how BC organizes its testing. Through his position he was able to share the numbers on student testing taking place at BC, noting that the services are available to the whole community, but are mainly used by the students at BC.
“We want to get our numbers out there,” he emphasized, and added later “I’m putting all these caveats in here about ‘this is our testing.'” The numbers from BC’s testing since starting on Aug. 16 when accessed on the evening of Dec. 2 was that there have been 1,626 tests administered to students with a 2.28 positivity rate. In the last four weeks there were 925 tests administered to students with a positivity rate of 2.51%.
The problem lies in the method that the numbers are collected. BC uses programs provided by the state of California: the first is Ready Education which provides the Kern Community College District app, and the second is Color: COVID-19 and Genetic Testing for Populations is used by California and can be used to trace variants.
Dr. Collom described the Ready Education program as “a data tracking system” that is meant to direct the data that is submitted by students through their use of the health checker and scanning when entering buildings.
The program does not “provide us with cumulative numbers—you would think that it would provide us with cumulative numbers of positives, maybe a graph of how many positives per day, you would think it would be able to do that, but it is actually extraordinarily limited in terms of providing statistics because it’s not really built for research or public health research, it’s built for us keeping the campus safe and proper record keeping. Not for converting those records into statistics,” he stated.
Color, Dr. Collom explained, “provides better public health information for [California’s Public Health department].” Yet it also is one of the causes for the stopgap in transparency available between the department and the current COVID numbers, “it’s difficult to port this data over to our website when the state’s website goes down so frequently,” he expressed.
“It’s free and it’s worth every penny. I would say during periods of high testing volume in the state this website encounters more glitches,” Dr. Collom added.
Despite its insufficiencies, the site is helpful after situations such as Thanksgiving, wherein the state was concerned there would be a drastic increase in COVID cases due to large gatherings and travel.
“California actually sent out an email saying ‘we recommend you get tested after this weekend, go in and get tested, etc., etc.'” Dr. Collom began, “I had my office employees tested including the student employees, it’s free. I recommended to other departments that they have their employees tested, so Monday was a huge test day for us. We have one individual come back with a positive result—only one—and it was almost certainly a false positive. It was someone who should have been screened, not tested.”
He continued, “That’s really good news and it says something; we’re not seeing a spike we expect to see…so someone’s doing something right, and when I put my research hat on I can’t take credit for it or think anything could take credit for it because I just don’t have the data. My—unproven—hypothesis would be that it’s a combination of our requirement for vaccination and the high levels of vaccination numbers among the most vulnerable in the community—people who aren’t subject to the requirement.”
On the subject of large increases of cases being recorded Dr. Collom answered that there have not been any “shocking spikes,” but related the details behind the increase in their beginning baseline.
“When no one’s here, no one’s testing, we’re getting no positives; when everyone’s here and everyone’s testing, we’re gonna get more positives,” he simplified.
When asked if he could speak on if the vaccine requirement BC has in place is succeeding in reducing the number of positive cases, Dr. Collom answered that the question is difficult to answer due to sampling bias.
“You have to ask yourself, ‘who’s required to be tested? Are people who’re vaccinated required to be tested?’ No. It’s the unvaccinated who are required to be tested. So if the unvaccinated people are the ones who are disproportionately being tested […] we would expect to see that the unvaccinated would be a higher proportion of positives,” he stated.
Dr. Collom also referenced the students who are still in the process of becoming vaccinated, saying that there have been students who had exemptions from receiving the vaccines who changed their mind and asked to receive it.
Shortly after this, he emphasized again the significance of bearing in mind that the details he offered are only relevant to BC, “this really is tentative data because of the fact that we’re only talking about our testing. Our testing’s almost certainly the vast majority being done on students; they’re coming in and getting it done for free, so why not?”
In a follow-up to the interview on Dec. 2, Dr. Collom stated the following “as of close of business […] we have had [zero] new COVID cases identified from our on-site testing.”