A&M team uses updated Texas data to enhance models for COVID-19

Image: School of Public Health

A team of researchers from the Texas A&M University School of Public Health is using data from the state of Texas to help model the potential spread of COVID-19 and its potential impacts on the state’s health care system, economy and other sectors.

Faculty experts in epidemiology, emergency management, health policy and more have been tracking and monitoring the virus since February. An agreement reached with the Department of State Health Services now allows the School of Public Health’s researchers to plug state data into their models, allowing for refined and frequently updated projections.

“It’s really a credit to Texas A&M that we have this variety of experts who’ve come together quickly to work on sophisticated models and provide this information to the state of Texas,” said Greg Hartman, senior vice president and chief operating officer of the Texas A&M University Health Science Center and vice chancellor for strategic initiatives at The Texas A&M University System.

The researchers recently started to receive data from the state to plug into their models. Hartman said Texas A&M’s model is unique in that it will be updated on a regular basis using the latest information from the state.

Like those being compiled by a number of other universities in Texas, the School of Public Health’s early models used the state’s population and demographics to extrapolate how COVID-19 could spread when compared to data from Washington State or Wuhan, China, for example. In addition to this, Hartman said the Texas A&M researchers wanted to be able to input real data from the Department of State Health Services.

“The state is going to look at models from universities, particularly the A&M model. They’ve asked us to think about not only the spread of the disease but also what the impact is going to be on the health care system,” Hartman said. “They’ve also been using the A&M model on a practical level to think about distribution of supplies.”

Marcia Ory, Regents Professor and University Distinguished Professor in the School of Public Health and director of the Center for Population Health & Aging, is part of the six-member investigative team. She said the team’s goal for more than a month has been threefold: predicting disease spread from current case reports collected nationally and statewide, estimating COVID-19-related health care utilization and forecasting economic impacts on the health care system.

“The question health care facilities want to know is how many hospital beds they will need, how many intensive care units and ventilators, and when will the peak come so they can prepare for the anticipated surge,” Ory said. “Having worked together on this issue for more than a month, we are all committed to helping the state and local leadership prepare for this pandemic.”

The financial impact on Texas’ health care system, needs for ventilators and personal protective equipment and potential case numbers are among the COVID-19 projections the team will make.

Ory said the Texas A&M models can also estimate what case numbers will look like if strict social distancing guidelines are followed versus a failure to follow these recommendations.

Several faculty experts were quickly brought together to address these issues. In addition to Ory, they include Angela Clendenin, an expert in emergency management and disaster preparedness; Murray J. Côté, who focuses on modeling healthcare operations and demand forecasting; Rebecca Fischer, an infectious disease and epidemiological surveillance expert; Martial Ndeffo, a College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences specialist in biological and mathematical models of infectious diseases; and Tiffany Radcliff, who specializes in health economics and policy.

Other key players include Gerald Parker, who serves as associate dean for Global One Health at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences and director of the Bush School of Government & Public Service‘s Pandemic and Biosecurity Policy Program, and Olga Rodriguez, a special assistant and clinical representative in the College of Medicine who has served as a liaison between the researchers and state officials.

Parker also chairs the Texas A&M Emergency Management Advisory Group (TEMAG), which includes Hartman, Radcliff, Ory, Clendenin, Côté and Fischer as members.

“You have this interesting group of people who’ve come together with a lot of different backgrounds, which I think is helping to inform the model,” Hartman said.

The modeling team is working closely with Texas Division of Emergency Management, Department of State Health Services and others throughout the state.

More at the School of Public Health.