New U. Texas tool predicts how many infected will show up to school

The University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium (Screenshot)

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With the number of COVID-19 cases skyrocketing across the country, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin created a new tool that estimates how many infected people are likely to show up on school campuses on any given day anywhere in the United States, the university announced this week.

More than 11.6 million Americans have been infected by the coronavirus, and more than 250,000 have died since the start of the pandemic, with daily case counts and death tolls continuing to mount nationwide. That’s put an additional burden on school administrators considering what actions need to be taken to keep students, faculty and staff healthy.

Texas’ new online online infection risk tool informs users of how many people infected with COVID-19 are likely to be present in groups of various sizes, like in classrooms or on campuses, Lauren Ancel Meyers, a professor of integrative biology and director of the university’s COVID-19 Modeling Consortium, said in a press release.

The predictive model, based on data collected by the New York Times, is updated daily with the latest county-level infection numbers which is then used to calculate the risk of infection at gatherings of different sizes in counties throughout the country.

Users are able to hover over any county in the country to see how many infected people are likely to show up in groups ranging between 10 and 5,000 people. In San Bernardino County, California, for example, current infection rates suggest that within a group of 100 people, only one person is likely to be infected with COVID-19. But in a place with a much worse outbreak like, say, El Paso County, Texas, a 100-person group is likely to include five actively infected people.

The model can also be used to predict chances of interacting with infected people in other group settings such as offices, religious congregations and gyms, researchers said.

However, while the model projects how many infected people might show up to school on a given day, it doesn’t calculate how likely it is that an uninfected person might become infected, researchers said. The model does not account for the possibility that children might have different transmission rates than adults or that schools, workplaces and other spaces vary widely in the health guidelines they employ, like mask wearing, social distancing and air filtering.

But it can still give a rough sense of the risks, researchers said.

“It’s meant to guide families, teachers and school leadership in understanding the risks,” Meyers said.

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