Washington University in St. Louis

Risk analysis helps contend with uncertainty of in-person activities

Model can help decision-makers navigate relative risks, identify modifiable factors

Newswise — As states and municipalities begin to roll out mass vaccination campaigns, some people have dared to ask: When will it be safe to resume “normal” activities again? For those in most parts of the United States, the risk of COVID-19 infection remains extremely high.

People now have access to better real-time information about infection rates and transmission at the county or city level, but they still need a framework to help them decide what is safe to do. Social distancing and shutting businesses have reduced the number of cases, but there is mounting pressure to reopen businesses and classrooms.

Life is likely to continue in this limbo for some time. A new model co-authored by a Washington University in St. Louis mathematician helps to contend with the uncertainty.

“People need a way to decide whether an activity is worth undertaking,” said John E. McCarthy, the Spencer T. Olin Professor of Mathematics in Arts & Sciences and chair of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at Washington University.

“We provide a model to estimate the relative infection risks of different activities,” he said. “That information can allow decision-makers in industry and government to rank activities according to their relative risk of infection.

“In combination with an understanding of the benefits and costs of those activities, decision-makers can then make informed choices about whether, and if so how, to allow participation in previously forbidden activities.”

McCarthy wrote the model, published Jan. 28 in the journal PLOS ONE, along with Barry D. Dewitt at Carnegie Mellon University, Bob A. Dumas at Omnium LLC and Myles T. McCarthy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The researchers present several example calculations, analyzing the risks of idealized versions of airplane travel, attending a sporting event, sitting in a classroom, going to a restaurant and attending a religious service.

Crucially, the new model breaks up the component parts of such in-person activities — walking through a turnstile at a stadium, for example, or sitting in one’s seat in the stands — and adds up their contributions to relative risk. This makes the model easy to use and allows the user to quantify the effect of any proposed mitigation strategy.

McCarthy has already been using a version of this formula to help sports franchises to keep the fan experience at stadiums and arenas the safest it can be. In describing this effort, McCarthy said: “We learned pretty quickly two big takeaways: The single most important risk factor in a fan experience is seating; and, with mitigation, the risk in everything else is relatively small.”

In the PLOS ONE paper, the mathematicians describe how the model they share is a good approximation of a more refined model in which assumed infections come from a series of independent risks. A linearity assumption governing several potentially modifiable risk factors — such as duration of the activity, density of participants and infectiousness of the attendees — makes interpreting and using the model straightforward. The researchers argue that it does so without significantly diminishing the reliability of the model.

This type of decision-making tool will be relevant for months or possibly years ahead, even after the COVID-19 vaccines become more widely available.

“Our approach could be modified to account for estimates of the percent vaccinated of the population of potential participants in an activity,” McCarthy said.

“To be a useful decision-making tool, a model must be robust and quantitative,” he said. “All activities outside one’s home have some risk. To make an informed decision on what activities to engage in and which ones to avoid, we need some way to estimate the relative risks of different activities and of different ways of managing a given activity.”


Filters close

Showing results

110 of 5855
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.

Newswise: First Wave COVID-19 Data Underestimated Pandemic Infections
18-Jun-2021 8:30 AM EDT
First Wave COVID-19 Data Underestimated Pandemic Infections
American Institute of Physics (AIP)

Two COVID-19 pandemic curves emerged within many cities during the one-year period from March 2020 to March 2021. Oddly, the number of total daily infections reported during the first wave is much lower than that of the second, but the total number of daily deaths reported during the first wave is much higher than the second wave.

Newswise: PNNL AI Expert Harnesses Open-Source Data to Understand Human Behavior
Released: 22-Jun-2021 9:55 AM EDT
PNNL AI Expert Harnesses Open-Source Data to Understand Human Behavior
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

PNNL researchers used natural language processing and deep learning techniques to reveal how and why different types of misinformation and disinformation spread across social platforms. Applied to COVID-19, the team found that misinformation intended to influence politics and incite fear spreads fastest.

Released: 22-Jun-2021 8:30 AM EDT
Engineering Nanobodies As Lifesavers When SARS-CoV-2 Variants Attack
Ohio State University

Scientists are pursuing a new strategy in the protracted fight against the SARS-CoV-2 virus by engineering nanobodies that can neutralize virus variants in two different ways.

Released: 21-Jun-2021 3:45 PM EDT
Rare Neurological Disorder Documented Following COVID-19 Vaccination
American Neurological Association (ANA)

In two separate articles in the Annals of Neurology, clinicians in India and England report cases of a rare neurological disorder called Guillain-Barré syndrome after individuals were vaccinated against COVID-19.

Newswise: New Analysis reveals link between birthdays and COVID-19 spread during the height of the pandemic
17-Jun-2021 12:10 PM EDT
New Analysis reveals link between birthdays and COVID-19 spread during the height of the pandemic
Harvard Medical School

Risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection increased 30 percent for households with a recent birthday in counties with high rates of COVID-19 Findings suggest informal social gatherings such as birthday parties played role in infection spread at the height of the coronavirus pandemic No birthday-bash infection jumps seen in areas with low rates of COVID-19 Households with children’s birthdays had greater risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection than with adult birthdays

Newswise: COVID-19 dual-antibody therapies effective against variants in animal study
Released: 21-Jun-2021 10:05 AM EDT
COVID-19 dual-antibody therapies effective against variants in animal study
Washington University in St. Louis

A study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis suggests that many, but not all, COVID-19 therapies made from combinations of two antibodies are effective against a wide range of virus variants, and that combination therapies appear to prevent the emergence of drug resistance.

13-Jun-2021 12:05 PM EDT
COVID-19 Pandemic Drinking: Increases Among Women, Black Adults, and People with Children
Research Society on Alcoholism

Risky drinking has been a public health concern in the U.S. for decades, but the significant increase in retail alcohol sales following COVID-19 pandemic stay-at-home orders in particular raised red flags for alcohol researchers. New research has assessed changes in alcohol drinking patterns from before to after the enactment of stay-at-home orders. These results and others will be shared at the 44th annual scientific meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism (RSA), which will be held virtually this year from the 19th - 23rd of June 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

13-Jun-2021 1:05 PM EDT
The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Alcohol Consumption Is Far From ‘One Size Fits All’
Research Society on Alcoholism

An ongoing analysis of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on alcohol and related outcomes shows that COVID-related stressors experienced by study participants – including work-, financial-, and family-related stressors – are having a varied impact on individuals with and without alcohol use disorders (AUDs). These results will be shared at the 44th annual scientific meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism (RSA), which will be held virtually this year from the 19th - 23rd of June 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Showing results

110 of 5855