Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

App Developed at Rensselaer Can Help Guide COVID-19 Management on Any Campus

Tools and strategies developed in-house at Rensselaer effective in preventing spread

Newswise — TROY, N.Y. — In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, as leaders at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute prepared to bring students back to campus for the fall 2020 semester, they relied on a powerful algorithm to determine that twice-weekly testing of all students would be the optimal regimen for keeping the infection rate on campus safely below 1% for any two-week period. With less than two weeks remaining in the in-person portion of the semester and an overall infection rate well below 0.5% for the entire semester, the approach has proven effective.

That algorithm, developed by Rensselaer computer science professor Malik Magdon-Ismail, is now publicly available as COVID Back-to-School, a free online app maintained by the Rensselaer Institute for Data Exploration and Applications.

“Consistent with our legacy of technological expertise, Rensselaer was able to develop a number of tools and strategies in-house that have enabled us to maintain control over the virus and remain focused on our education and research mission this semester,” said Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson. “We encourage other institutions to learn from and use these tools, like COVID Back-to-School, in hopes that they have similar success in the spring.”

Based on information provided about a specific school and its intended approach to managing the virus, COVID Back-to-School can project outcomes such as the proportion of students infected over time and the number of likely new infections every 14 days. Users can explore how changing the testing frequency affects the number of anticipated infections, as well as how a party or gathering — depending on its size and duration, and whether or not attendees are wearing masks — might impact the number of positive cases.

The app can be used by decision-makers on a range of campuses, from elementary school to college.

“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.”

Watch a video on COVID Back-to-School.

Magdon-Ismail built COVID Back-to-School after developing COVID War Room, another a publicly available app he developed to help leaders of smaller cities and counties understand how COVID-19 would spread in their less densely populated areas.

COVID Back-to-School and COVID War Room rely on so-called “robust” machine learning algorithms that can offer accurate predictions despite the sparse, less frequently updated, data generated by smaller populations. The COVID War Room app offers local information on aspects of the pandemic — such as the rate of infections over time, the rate at which mild infections become serious, and estimates for asymptomatic infections — for all 50 states by county and for numerous international locations.

These are just two of many powerful tools developed and implemented at Rensselaer as part of a comprehensive virus mitigation strategy, known as T3SQI — Testing, Tracing, Tracking, Surveillance, and Quarantine/Isolation. For example, Rensselaer staff developed a rapid, contactless automated process for testing check-in, which made it possible to maintain a rate of 7,000 tests per week. The majority of tests conducted on campus were processed in Rensselaer labs.

In addition to regular testing, campus community members entered information about their health and activities each day via apps developed at Rensselaer, which enable rapid and effective contact tracing. Additionally, a team of Rensselaer faculty and staff monitored wireless network congestion data to identify areas and times where adjustments were needed to reduce the population density. Informed by Magdon-Ismail’s modeling, Rensselaer also reduced the density of in-person classes, staggered student meal times, and required masks for everyone on campus, among other measures to combat the spread of the virus.

“Rensselaer is a community of doers committed to changing the world, so it is no surprise that when faced with a novel challenge, we have risen to the occasion,” President Jackson said. “I am confident that the work of our experts, like Professor Magdon-Ismail and many others, will benefit countless campus communities, in addition to our own, as we find our way through this difficult time.”

About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is America’s first technological research university. Rensselaer encompasses five schools, 32 research centers, more than 145 academic programs, and a dynamic community made up of more than 7,900 students and over 100,000 living alumni. Rensselaer faculty and alumni include more than 145 National Academy members, six members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, six National Medal of Technology winners, five National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With nearly 200 years of experience advancing scientific and technological knowledge, Rensselaer remains focused on addressing global challenges with a spirit of ingenuity and collaboration. To learn more, please visit

Filters close

Showing results

110 of 5862
Released: 23-Jun-2021 3:55 PM EDT
Cooperative Extension grant aims to vaccinate NYS’ vulnerable
Cornell University

A two-year, $200,000 grant from the USDA and the Extension Foundation to Cornell University researchers aims to help promote vaccine confidence and uptake in vulnerable communities in eight New York counties, both upstate and downstate.

Released: 23-Jun-2021 12:10 PM EDT
Phone swabs can accurately detect COVID-19
University College London

An accurate, non-invasive, and low-cost method of testing for COVID-19 using samples taken from the screens of mobile phones has been developed by a team led by UCL researchers at Diagnosis Biotech.

Newswise: NIH study suggests COVID-19 prevalence far exceeded early pandemic cases
Released: 23-Jun-2021 11:35 AM EDT
NIH study suggests COVID-19 prevalence far exceeded early pandemic cases
National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering

In a new study, NIH researchers report that the prevalence of COVID-19 in the United States during spring and summer of 2020 far exceeded the known number of cases and that infection affected the country unevenly.

Released: 23-Jun-2021 11:25 AM EDT
Half of young adults with covid-19 have persistent symptoms 6 months after
University of Bergen

A paper published in the prestigious journal Nature Medicine on long-COVID, describes persistent symptoms six months after acute COVID-19, even in young home isolated people.

Newswise:Video Embedded covid-19-vaccine-hesitancy-dr-vin-gupta-narrates-new-american-thoracic-society-video
Released: 23-Jun-2021 9:40 AM EDT
COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy: Dr. Vin Gupta Narrates New American Thoracic Society Video
American Thoracic Society (ATS)

The American Thoracic Society rolls out a new video to address vaccine hesitancy and answer common questions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

18-Jun-2021 11:00 AM EDT
Had COVID-19? One Vaccine Dose Enough; Boosters For All, Study Says
American Chemical Society (ACS)

A new study in ACS Nano supports increasing evidence that people who had COVID-19 need only one vaccine dose, and that boosters could be necessary for everyone in the future.

Released: 22-Jun-2021 5:10 PM EDT
Tecnología de inteligencia artificial y ECG puede rápidamente descartar infección por COVID-19
Mayo Clinic

La inteligencia artificial puede ofrecer un manera de determinar con exactitud que una persona no está infectada con la COVID-19. Un estudio internacional y retrospectivo descubrió que la infección por SARS-CoV-2, el virus que causa la COVID-19, provoca sutiles cambios eléctricos en el corazón. Un electrocardiograma (ECG) mediado por inteligencia artificial detecta estos cambios y puede servir como una prueba rápida y confiable para descartar la infección por COVID-19.

Released: 22-Jun-2021 4:45 PM EDT
Penn Medicine to Use $1M from City of Philadelphia for Additional Community Vaccination Clinics
Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

Penn Medicine will continue its collaboration with the West and Southwest Philadelphia communities to operate a series of COVID-19 vaccine clinics in partnership with community organizations, faith-based institutions, restaurants, barbershops, and even professional sports teams thanks to $1 million in funding from the City of Philadelphia, in partnership with PMHCC.

Released: 22-Jun-2021 12:30 PM EDT
Political Variables Carried More Weight Than Healthcare in Government Response to COVID-19
Binghamton University, State University of New York

Political institutions such as the timing of elections and presidentialism had a larger influence on COVID-19 strategies than the institutions organizing national healthcare, according to a research team led by a professor at Binghamton University, State University of New York.

22-Jun-2021 12:00 PM EDT
Study Testing How Well COVID-19 Vaccine Prevents Infection and Spread of SARS-CoV-2 Among University Students Now Expands to Include Young Adults Beyond the University Setting
Covid-19 Prevention Network (CoVPN)

The Prevent COVID U study, which launched in late March 2021 to evaluate SARS-CoV-2 infection and transmission among university students vaccinated with the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine, has expanded beyond the university setting to enroll young adults ages 18 through 29 years and will now also include people in this age group who choose not to receive a vaccine.

Showing results

110 of 5862