Filling out a COVID-19 symptom survey isn’t exactly a normal part of a morning routine, but at the University of Georgia, it’s supposed to be. However, UGA students are disenchanted with DawgCheck, the university’s COVID-19 screening and notification app that was designed to monitor and control the spread of the coronavirus.
DawgCheck is composed of several Qualtrics surveys. Anyone coming to campus or who lives on campus is supposed to complete the Check for Symptoms survey every day, UGA spokesperson Greg Trevor said in a Sept. 3 email. DawgCheck asks if the user has any COVID-19 symptoms or has been in close contact with someone who’s tested positive.
There are no consequences if the survey is not completed every day. However, entering intentionally false information could result in a referral to the Office of Student Conduct, according to the survey home screen.
UGA community members are also required to report a positive COVID-19 test into DawgCheck, Trevor said. The app is based on self-reporting, however — there are no known penalties for failing to disclose a positive case.
Questioning the effectiveness of self-reporting
Some students say DawgCheck’s reliance on self-reporting means it’s not very effective. Freshman Martina Essert said she doesn’t do the daily Check for Symptoms survey as she got busy with school, and nobody that she’s talked to does either.
“Right after it came out, I used it every day. I felt like I would be reprimanded if I didn’t use it, almost. And then … I would skip a day or I’d forget, and then I realized that nothing really happened if you didn’t do it, they would just send you an email every day,” Essert said.
Katherine Lamson, another freshman, said she would use DawgCheck if she needed to log a positive COVID-19 test, but doesn’t complete the daily symptoms survey anymore. She didn’t see the impact of completing the survey day after day when she had nothing to report, and she thought UGA only uses data from the positive test reports.
Essert said she’s heard of people not putting their symptoms or positive test results in DawgCheck because of the fear of being sent home or quranated in one of UGA’s isolation rooms. Some students that do log their positive tests have experienced a delay in response from the university.
Anna R., a junior majoring in biology, logged a positive COVID-19 test into DawgCheck on Aug. 28. She received an email from UGA confirming her test submission, but nothing else that day. On Aug. 31, three days after putting her test result in, UGA sent her an email offering support she described as “vague” and “performative.”
She had been isolating in her off-campus apartment since she felt the first COVID-19 symptoms, but said it was concerning that it took the university that long to check in with her.
“I’ve been pretty careful throughout the whole thing, but it just scares me that there’s probably people that aren’t being as careful and UGA’s just not even following up with those people,” she said. “Everyone I’ve been around, I told them myself because I don’t know if UGA would do that.”
A mandatory app?
Amanda Bright, an academic professional in UGA’s journalism department, said she reminded her students to complete DawgCheck at the beginning of the first few classes of the year. She said while DawgCheck is a “really good attempt at collecting data” and she wanted her students to use it, the app was limited because it wasn’t mandatory.
“Without its ability to collect a really strong data set, we do not know what’s happening on this campus with COVID, and therefore we cannot make good decisions from the student level all the way up into the administration,” Bright said.
Bright said that while she appreciated that UGA was improving DawgCheck and making it more streamlined, making it mandatory would be a good start to collecting stronger data — she suggested a popup window before students could access eLearning Commons. Lamson recommended that completing the survey give students a pass to get into buildings on campus, like the University of California, Davis.
Ansley Whitlock said she thinks making DawgCheck mandatory would help with response rates and make her more likely to complete it, but said that people may not be entirely truthful if they had to do it, for example, before accessing eLC.
In Bright’s eyes, it’s a culture issue, and people need to be encouraged in a positive way to complete the survey.
“If you look at an individual level, it just wastes the first two minutes of my day when I wake up and blurrily click the link and make my selections,” Bright said. “But if I think of it as a collective responsibility issue, then all of a sudden, even if I don’t feel like doing it, or I’d rather do something else, I should do it.”
Trevor did not answer what the response rate of DawgCheck is, and it’s unclear whether the university plans to make DawgCheck mandatory in the future. Ultimately, Essert said that if more data were collected and students and UGA were more transparent, it would help everybody.
“Everyone kind of feels like the university doesn’t care about our health or safety, even though it’s on all those posters everywhere,” Essert said. “Because they’re not addressing the fact that there’s 20 kids walking out of Russell Hall with their bags packed.”