COVID-19: Agent-based framework for modelling pandemics in urban environment

Pralat, Pawel | $50,000

Ontario Ryerson University 2020 NSERC Alliance COVID-19 Grant

The development of COVID‑19 pandemic raises important questions on optimal policy design for managing and controlling the number of people affected. In order to answer these questions, one needs to better understand determinants of pandemic dynamics. Indeed, the development of epidemics depends on various factors including the intensity and frequency of social contacts and the amount of care and protection applied during those contacts. In particular, one area where the disease can be transmitted is the urban space of a large city such as Toronto.

The goal of the project is to create an agent-based framework for building virtual models of an urban area. This framework will be used as a virtual laboratory for testing various scenarios and their implications for the development of pandemics. In order for conclusions to be reliable, the models (known in the literature as synthetic population models or digital twins) have to be up to scale, with the number of agents comparable with the population of the city. This, in turn, requires implementations ready to be run in a large scale distributed computing environment in the cloud (for example, using the Elastic Compute Cloud – EC2 service at Amazon Web Services – AWS) as the algorithms behind the engine need high performance computing power.

The framework will allow us to evaluate different COVID‑19 mitigation policy designs. This includes possible decisions such as decreasing proneness to wearing masks, closing down some non-essential, high-contact, social network nodes (for example, hairdressers), limiting the number of people having simultaneous social gatherings or reducing the number of people on streets altogether via promoting actions such as #stayathome.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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