UI coronavirus modeling application projects future course of COVID-19 in Iowa

Published on June 12, 2020

A new University of Iowa website developed by public health researchers tracking the COVID-19 pandemic provides an interactive tool to model the effects various mitigation measures could have on the future course of the disease in Iowa. The website and modeling application is available at https://covid-19.public-health.uiowa.edu/.

The tool utilizes statistical modeling to predict how interventions such as social distancing and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) might influence COVID-19 in Iowa. Projections indicate that novel coronavirus infections and deaths could increase or decrease substantially in the coming months, depending on how many Iowans adopt these measures and how effective mitigation efforts are in limiting disease transmission. While the modeling tool provides estimates for the expected epidemic trend, the researchers stress that actual outcomes may vary considerably.

“The College of Public Health COVID-19 Response Team developed this tool as a free public service to state and local policymakers, business leaders, and others to assist in guiding the community response to the coronavirus pandemic,” says project leader Joseph Cavanaugh, professor and head of biostatistics in the UI College of Public Health.

The modeling application’s interactive features allow users to adjust and visualize the impact that two types of “nonpharmaceutical interventions” — social distancing and universal PPE — could have on the number of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, ventilator use, and deaths over time. Other variables include the date interventions are implemented, level of PPE effectiveness, and the percentage of Iowa’s population that adopts social distancing or PPE recommendations.

Dan Sewell, assistant professor of biostatistics, led development of the application and the interactive features in the tool are based on a statistical model he developed. The user interface and Spanish translation were developed by a group of volunteer College of Public Health doctoral students led by Caitlin Ward and Collin Nolte, and IT staff member Chris Grycki assisted with deployment of the app. Other faculty on the COVID-19 response team include: Grant Brown, assistant professor of biostatistics; Aaron Miller, assistant professor of epidemiology; Jacob Oleson, professor of biostatistics; and Eli Perencevich, professor of internal medicine and epidemiology.

“While less quarantining will inevitably lead to a rise in infections and fatalities, if Iowans were willing and able to wear personal protective equipment such as face shields with high compliance rates, we could offset that rise and potentially effect a drop off in cases state-wide,” says Sewell.

The website also provides a discussion on the possibility that COVID-19 will exhibit the same strong seasonality patterns as other human coronaviruses, including the potential that without adequate mitigation measures Iowa could experience a second peak more severe than the first.

The UI team that developed the modeling application was assembled in spring 2020 to produce projections for the Iowa Department of Public Health to help guide the state of Iowa’s response to the COVID outbreak. The tool now available on the College of Public Health website relies entirely on publicly available data.