Expert Pitch
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

A Free App Can Help School and College Administrators Contain COVID-19 This Semester

With COVID-19 infection rates rising across the country as students return to school for the spring semester, how will schools and colleges control the spread?  COVID Back-to-School can help. It’s a free online tool that predicts the outcome of taking specific measures to curtail the spread of the virus.  

The algorithm powering the app was developed by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute computer science professor Malik Magdon-Ismail and builds upon the success of COVID War Room, an algorithm that can predict the spread of COVID-19 in smaller cities and counties across the United States and select international locations. 

Administrators at Rensselaer consulted COVID Back-to-School when devising a COVID-19 management plan that successfully kept the infection rate on campus well below 0.5% during the fall 2020 semester, even with most students attending in-person classes. 

Magdon-Ismail, an expert in machine learning, designed the algorithm to allow administrators at schools of all levels, as well as ordinary citizens, to quantitatively analyze various strategies for containing the virus. Users can enter details about their institution — like the zip codes students come from, the size of the school, how often students are tested, the number of expected interactions during a class or meal — and COVID Back-to-School will project outcomes like the proportion of students likely to arrive infected, the proportion of students likely to be infected over time, and the number of likely new infections every 14 days. 

“This is a publicly available tool that we’re hoping schools can use to quantitatively analyze re-opening strategies,” Magdon-Ismail said. “Schools can use it, at least, to evaluate how their current strategy will play out assuming an infection on campus. Better still, COVID Back-to-School allows schools to try out various strategies before actually implementing them, to see what works and what doesn’t.” 

Magdon-Ismail is available to discuss how the algorithm works and the utility it may provide to colleges and universities across the country in the spring semester.




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