Indiana University researchers are working to predict the future of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Indiana state officials are taking advantage of their expertise.
“You have a certain emerging trend, and the idea is to look and find out, ‘is the trend going down? What is the probability that new cases will overwhelm our hospital system? Should we reopen the economy?’” said Constantin Yiannoutsos, PhD, professor in the IU Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health and adjunct professor in the IU School of Medicine Department of Biostatistics.
When the novel coronavirus began its spread in the United States and in Indiana, Yiannoutsos and his colleagues switched their focus to primarily research COVID-19 cases. By looking at the number of cases in Indiana and other states and how those numbers are changing over time, their team, which is led by Nir Menachemi, PhD, MPH, chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Fairbanks School of Public Health and Paul Halverson, DrPH, FACHE, founding dean of the School of Public Health, can create forecasting models to predict when a spike of new cases may occur.
“We look back at the history to establish a trend and see if the current numbers are going up or down,” Yiannoutsos said. “Then we try to provide some analysis about what might happen in the future based on what we’ve seen.”
Yiannoutsos said based on data from the first-in-the-country, statewide, random testing for COVID-19, the team estimates the COVID-19 death rate so far is 0.6 percent, which is worse than influenza. They are also worried about spikes in cases at certain times over the summer, such as the days surrounding the July 4th holiday.
To create these forecasting models, the team is utilizing past models and adapting them to the coronavirus epidemic, looking at different scenarios and analyzing how they may impact hospital and state resources. They’re looking at data from testing done by IU School of Medicine and Public Health researchers, the state health department, county health departments and more.
“There was statewide prevalence testing where about 3,700 people were tested statewide, then I analyzed those data and Menachemi and Halverson presented it to the Governor’s office,” Yiannoutsos said. “We also try to analyze these data to answer different questions. For example, how many people have antibodies to the virus, which means that they have been previously exposed? And for hospitals, does it make sense to be testing asymptomatic people who come in for elective procedures?”
The Indiana State Department of Health, Gov. Eric Holcomb’s office and hospitals are using their analyses as well in an effort to make the state as prepared as possible for any new cases.
“We're looking at these data, we're looking at the trends and we're looking at the policies—how they change and how the trends seem to respond to various policy changes,” Yiannoutsos said. “We also look at general prevalence. How many people are out there potentially spreading disease and where are they located? It will be interesting to see the state’s contact tracing data, and I'm very keen on seeing how these data will be analyzed in order to get an idea of how to use that in the decision-making process.”
While the team has been creating and studying these forecasting models for several months, they plan to continue studying them in hopes of analyzing the potential for more spikes in cases in the fall, winter and possibly beyond.