Pennsylvania’s leading COVID-19 modeler explains how life might start returning back to normal and what might not

by Oliver Morrison, PublicSource

The state and federal government are relying heavily on models from public health experts to predict how far COVID-19 will spread, how many people will die and how much additional capacity the healthcare system needs to weather the storm.

PublicSource spoke to Dr. Mark Roberts, the director of the Public Health Dynamics Lab at Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health, about the FRED model.

The Framework for Reconstructing Epidemiological Dynamics [FRED] model has been repeatedly cited by Dr. Rachel Levine, the secretary of health for the state of Pennsylvania, during her daily press conferences. Levine has used the model’s predictions to justify state decisions, including the decision to require certain counties to “stay at home” before others. The state has asked Roberts to run some scenarios that may guide how and when state leaders eventually decide to start releasing Pennsylvanians from extreme social distancing measures.

The FRED model uses information about where and how residents interact at school, work and in their neighborhoods, to predict the spread of diseases like influenza, H1N1 and dengue. Applied to COVID-19, the model predicts that, with statewide social distancing, the state can limit the number of total hospitalizations to 100,000 and that the peak number of hospitalizations can be delayed for hundreds of days, enough time to potentially make additional healthcare resources available.

Dr. Mark Roberts, the director of the Public Health Dynamics Lab at Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health (Photo courtesy of the University of Pittsburgh)

Dr. Mark Roberts, the director of the Public Health Dynamics Lab at Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health (Courtesy: University of Pittsburgh)

These models can be controversial and complicated because they rely on assumptions that sometimes can’t be known with certainty until much later.

The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.

The University of Pittsburgh’s campus in Oakland. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

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Pennsylvania’s leading COVID-19 modeler explains how life might start returning back to normal and what might not

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