UW-Madison researchers lead major data science coalition to help with COVID-19 pandemic

Published: Apr. 21, 2020 at 6:45 PM CDT
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A major collaborative data science effort is now underway at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to help with the understanding of COVID-19.

Early results from the research indicate the speed of viral transmission has slowed since Gov. Tony Evers issued the first Safer at Home order on March 25. UW-Madison said this shows, in the absence of other options, social/physical distancing is necessary to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The idea for the project started when Brian Yandell, interim director of the American Family Insurance Data Science Institute at UW-Madison, got a question from his yoga instructor about an article he had read about the sneaky exponential growth of cases of the disease in other parts of the world. The article highlighted the ways in which mathematical modeling could help inform policymakers and the general public about the pandemic.

Inspired, Yandell began to look for data and started developing an app to assess COVID-19 case projections in the Midwest.

He then reached out to researchers at UW Health, the School of Medicine and Public Health, and others on campus for help.

Within three weeks, Yandell had heard from more than 100 people throughout the U.S. who are now participating in various ways. The COVID-19 Data Science Research Group works under a charter focusing them in three areas: interpreting data, using that data to create models, and sharing information and findings.

"While the human costs of COVID-19 are clear, so are the steps we must take to protect our families, neighbors and community," wrote team member Jonathan Patz, director of the Global Health Institute, in a recent op-ed. "Physical distancing must be our top priority to stop new cases of COVID-19 from overwhelming our health care system."