Understanding, Forecasting and Communicating Risk During the COVID‑19 Epidemic

Fisman, David N | $331,683

Ontario University of Toronto 2020 CIHR Operating Grant

A new infectious disease, COVID-19, has emerged worldwide. Canada has experienced few cases, but there is great concern about the possibility of a Canadian COVID‑19 epidemic. Canada has a history of preparing for and managing disease outbreaks caused by new viruses (SARS, H1N1, preparing for Ebola). For many people inside and outside the public health community, an important part of preparation is having access to accurate, timely, reliable information about how the disease is spread, who is at risk, and who is not at risk. Public health professionals often want the answers to three basic questions about epidemics: « when will it peak? »; « when will it end? »; « how big will it be? ». Our team of doctors, epidemiologists, public health professionals, and statisticians has experience responding to past outbreaks like SARS, H1N1 and Ebola. We are already actively involved in analysis and modeling that is helping public health agencies and the general public understand the COVID‑19 epidemic, and « see what’s around the corner ». We have proposed a three-part project, which will use math and statistical modeling to: (i) forecast the near-term course of the epidemic; (ii) gain better understanding of the parts of the epidemic that are hidden from view, by analysing data that are public, but often messy or noisy; and (iii) use our information to build simulations that can help guide Canadian health agencies as they try to control or limit the spread of COVID‑19 in Canada. Throughout this project, we will be creating infographics and tools that let Canadians inside and outside the scientific community gain a better understanding of how epidemics spread, who is truly at risk, and what it takes to make epidemics end. By providing timely information to Canadians, we will help reduce the fear, xenophobia and anxiety that are often part and parcel of emerging infectious diseases.

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