How COVID-19 modelling affects our pandemic response

14 July 2020

Charting the course of COVID-19 with ever-changing charts and graphs has become a part of our daily routine since the onset of the pandemic. Watching infection, hospitalization, and recovery rates rise and fall has become a source of both anxiety and comfort in the past three months as we work together to flatten the curve in BC.

The graphs we keep such a close eye on illustrate critical time-sensitive data that informs public health decisions, including which public health resources and interventions are needed and where. This important work is made possible through mathematical modelling and projections, which researchers like Dr. Naveed Janjua and Dr. Michael Otterstatter of the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) are spearheading to inform BC’s response to COVID-19.

With rapid response funding from MSFHR, Dr. Janjua and Dr. Otterstatter are working in collaboration with Dr. Caroline Colijn (SFU) and Dr. Daniel Coombs (UBC) and other academic and public health partners to develop models of how COVID-19 is spreading in BC.

The team has developed three types of models that informed provincial policy and decisions on COVID-19 response. The physical distancing model measured how much COVID-19 infection rates would rise if physical distancing measures were relaxed by varying degrees. These scenarios were used in Dr. Bonnie Henry and Minister Adrian Dix’s May 4 public briefing. Details of this model are also published in a manuscript released as pre-print.

Another model developed by the team assessed the impact of opening schools for the month of June on the overall course of the epidemic in B.C.  As part of the province’s re-opening plan, the team is also investigating optimal contact tracing to keep COVID-19 transmissions low.

The team’s modelling work is communicated to BC’s policy and decision-makers, who receive weekly updates from the BCCDC modelling team that help inform scientifically-based decisions for BC’s reopening plan. Modelling and projections updates are posted on the BCCDC’s website.

This is one of a series of articles featuring four rapid response projects MSFHR funded in March in conjunction with the Provincial Health Officer to help inform the provincial response to the pandemic. The other three projects are testing BC’s baseline susceptibility to COVID-19, surveying British Columbians to address the “infodemic” around COVID-19, and developing candidate COVID-19 vaccines and clinical tools.

As BC’s health research funding agency, MSFHR is committed to enabling responsive, relevant research to support BC’s efforts to respond to the pandemic and ensuring that BC’s health research community has the resources it needs to continue doing world-class research during a time of rapid and inequitable change. MSFHR is supporting BC’s provincial coordinated health research response through this work, the MSFHR COVID-19 Research Response Fund, and the BC Strategic Research Advisory Committee (SRAC).