We in the United States have been struggling with the COVID-19 global pandemic for several months. If there is any silver lining it is during this time, this country’s best and brightest have had the opportunity to deeply analyze it. I think it’s safe to say the better analyses we have, the better the solutions we can propose and the less painful the closing and reopening of communities will be.
One of the very promising recent analyses was done by a cross-functional group of researchers ranging from computer scientists to medical researchers to sociologists. By their data-driven account, they succeeded at constructing a model that integrates what they call a dynamic mobility model. This mobility network is able to map the movements of people from neighborhoods to what the researchers define as Points of Interest (POIs) such as grocery stores and gyms. With this model, the researchers were able to run simulations to predict what factors would raise or lower infection rates. The outcomes of their simulations were shown to be consistent with real-world data.
The study focused on the largest metropolitan area in the United States. It was found that a small number of Points of Interest contributed to a majority of the COVID-19 infections. This is the type of information the community leadership would want to know to devise the best possible re-opening strategy.
I should not fail to mention this research carefully drills down into ethnic and socio-economic factors that appear to account for disparities in infection rates. For example, a comparison is drawn between grocery stores in high-income neighborhoods and those in low-income neighborhoods, saying the infection rates associated with grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods can be expected to be higher because grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods are more crowded and the customers tend to stay longer. Again, this is the type of information the community would want to know to devise the best possible re-opening strategy.
- Chang, S., Pierson, E., Koh, P.W. et al. Mobility network models of COVID-19 explain inequities and inform reopening. Nature (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2923-3