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Harvard’s COVIDU App Models Virus Spread on College Campuses

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A team of researchers from Harvard University has launched an interactive, disease-modeling app that simulates COVID transmission and mitigation on college campuses.

The COVIDU app models the spread of the virus in a hypothetical campus scenario by factoring in important considerations such as community transmission, student population, and other social settings unique to the campus.

Developed by Gary King, director of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science (IQSS), and Rochelle Walensky, incoming director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVIDU also allows users to customize the conditions that will help it to perfectly simulate the outcome.

“The app creates hypothetical people that would mirror what actually happens in the real world as closely as possible,” King claimed.

How COVIDU Can Help

Colleges such as Harvard bringing back students for spring are grappling with how to make their campuses safer for students, faculty, and visitors.

The customizable COVIDU app can provide valuable support for this process by understanding and mimicking user behavior, taking into account regular student conduct on campus including how they might flout rules and attend social gatherings. The app even models “super-spreader” behavior and its consequences.

“It models how often do students interact with each other? How often might they just not follow exactly the public health recommendations? How often will we have a visitor from somewhere else that maybe shouldn’t be there?” King said.

The app can also account for situations beyond university settings. For example, it can predict bigger and more serious pandemic-related events, like a spike in infections in the area or even aggressive mutations of the virus. Harvard administrators have recently used the app to calculate how the new UK variant could impact the Harvard community.

Users can compare different circumstances and consequences and, if needed, even generate reports with graphs and tables explaining the situation in detail. Harvard researchers are now hoping that the app will be a success, not just among students on campus, but even among those who have little to no knowledge of modeling or epidemiology.

“We’re hoping to get feedback from other scientists so that the underlying science can get better through collaboration. Of course, we also hope other campuses will benefit as well,” research data scientist at IQSS Zagreb Mukerjee said.

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