Dynamic COVID-19 modelling provides insights into local experience

Analyzing hundreds of scenarios and uncertainties, Lauren Cipriano, PhD, is trying to understand the most important drivers of the COVID-19 pandemic in the London region.

She has been working collaboratively with Dr. Wael Haddara since March 2020, using decision modelling techniques to make projections about what critical care utilization might look like throughout the pandemic and how this impacts hospital decision-making.

“We’ve focused on the decisions available to the hospital and what is useful for hospital leadership to know, given the situation around us,” explained Cipriano, Associate Professor with the Ivey Business School and in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. “And we’re providing insights into how other policy decisions, for example at the provincial level, may influence our local experience.”

Cipriano and Haddara are using a dynamic compartmental model of COVID-19 which can account for specific segments of the community, such as essential workers or older adults, as well as incorporating changes in behaviour in response to the evolving situation. For example, as case numbers and hospitalizations increase, people tend to change their behaviour, pulling back on activities and contact with others before business or school closures are enacted.

“Many pandemic planning models assume that people don’t react to the situation,” said Cipriano. “But we know people have dynamic behaviour, so we built this into the model.” 

At different stages of the pandemic, the team has used the model to compare different scenarios, such as testing and diagnosis rates, the prevalence of variants of concern, vaccine supply and government policies.

“My philosophy around informing decision makers is not to use models as a crystal ball, but to provide comparative analysis,” explained Cipriano. “Comparative analysis helps us identify which decisions and which uncertainties will have the biggest influence in our community.”

During the second and third waves, Cipriano and Haddara's modelling work has emphasized endurance, showing the need for more intensive planning to accommodate a longer, more pronounced surge in cases in the community.

Recent modelling also shows the importance of vaccination rates. “We’re at the point where every vaccine dose matters, every day,” said Cipriano. “Everyone getting vaccinated as soon as they are able to will have a big impact.”

Collaborating with Haddara, Cipriano says the project has transformed her perspective as a researcher. “This work has brought me closer to the needs of health care decision makers than I’ve ever been before, which has made the model more useful and impactful,” she said. “Throughout the pandemic, Dr. Haddara’s stories of his colleagues’ resilience, cooperation and commitment to patients has been inspiring to me and to this work."