UCHealth Today: Coronavirus models: what the numbers show in Colorado about how we may ‘return to normal’Apr 27, 2020
If we don’t do these things well, coronavirus cases will likely surge again, possibly swamping hospital and critical-care units and undoing what our weeks of staying at home have accomplished.
These are the conclusions of the latest report, released on April 20, from the state of Colorado’s COVID-19 Modeling Group, a team of experts from the Colorado School of Public Health, the CU School of Medicine, The CU Boulder Department of Applied Mathematics, CU Denver, and Colorado State University.
Models don’t make decisions; politicians and the people and organizations they govern do. Even the best model is only as accurate as the information and assumptions feeding it. But a good model can tell a story that helps to predict the future. That’s what this one does, and its projections are being used as a key basis for policy decisions affecting all of us in the state.
The Colorado COVID-19 Model Group’s April 20 report is an expansion and refinement of the team’s first model released on April 6. That earlier model considered how the statewide personal-distancing (also known as social distancing) mandates instituted on March 17 and 26 affected case numbers and particularly hospitalization and ICU demands. The model ran through several scenarios, varying the possible effect of personal distancing from 0% to 80% reductions in social interaction, the “contact rate” among people.
The new model uses the observed reduction in cases as an input to estimate just how much contact had been reduced: the closing of schools and many businesses, staying at home and other measures plunged Colorado’s average statewide contact rate by 75 to 78%, the team estimates. For its April 20 follow-up, the group modeled how various scenarios for opening up society might impact hospital- and critical-care bed needs.
Opening up depends on maintaining a delicate balance, says Dr. Jonathan Samet, dean of the Colorado School of Public Health and the leader of the Colorado COVID-19 Modeling Group.
“We have unemployment, the collapse of the economy, and other factors on the one hand, and human lives and the threat to health care workers and more on the other hand,” Samet said. “It’s the most incredible balancing dilemma that I think you could imagine at a societal level.”
The guiding principle in striking that balance has been straightforward: we must, in Colorado and beyond, collectively make sacrifices to keep coronavirus infection counts low enough that serious cases do not overwhelm hospitals and intensive care units where critical patients end up. If we don’t, “We will have doctors deciding if Patient A or Patient B gets the ventilator, which would be an impossible ethical situation,” Samet said.
Thanks to widespread adherence to the March 26 measures, we’ve been successful so far. But what happens when we relax those orders? That’s what the modeling team set out to understand.
Read the full story at UCHealth Today.