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A&M COVID-19 modeling expert: 'We're still on the left side of the curve'

(KBTX)
Published: Apr. 16, 2020 at 7:13 PM CDT
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COVID-19 models aren’t perfect, but experts say they’re better than nothing.

“We’re like Boy Scouts—always prepared,” said Murray Côté, a team member on the newly formed Texas A&M Emergency Management Advisory Group and a leading researcher involved in the production of COVID-19 models for the Brazos County Health District.

“If public health is working really, really well, then you don’t know that it’s working because everything else is like it’s supposed to be—it’s behaving how it’s supposed to be behaving,” Côté added.

Côté describes modeling as “water moving from container to container to container,” with those respective buckets being “susceptible,” “exposed,” “infected,” and “recovered.” Researchers like him watch for the rate at which the “water” of a community moves from bucket to bucket.

It’s not an easy, nor always exact, science.

Côté says there are a few reasons why modeling is difficult, but one of the main reasons is "clusters," or pockets of somewhat-contained infection that spreads through a close-knit area.

“The assumption is that everyone in the community would eventually be exposed and eventually be infected and eventually be recovered,” said Côté. “What we know in the presence of things like social distancing and shelter-in-place, that kind of takes us out of the susceptible and exposed and infected population, and so we end up seeing like we see in nursing homes across the country—where we see pockets of infection that happen very quickly.”

Because of the difficulty in modeling, Côté is hesitant to say when the “peak” of COVID-19 cases will hit the Brazos Valley.

“We don't know at this point,” said Côté. “As best as we can tell, we're still on the left side of the curve.”

In that same vein, Côté was similarly wary of saying whether he believes May 1 is too soon to open the economy.

“I apologize for being wishy-washy, but I’m not sure,” said Côté.

For the conversation with Côté from First News at Four, see the video player above.