Dr. Laura Cowen, principal investigator and associate professor in UVic’s department of mathematics and statistics, is leading a team of researchers working to develop a tool that aims to find hidden COVID-19 cases in the community. (Provided by the Victoria Hospitals Foundation)

Victoria research team developing tool to find ‘hidden’ COVID cases

New model will allow for early detection of second wave

  • Aug. 15, 2020 12:00 a.m.

A team of researchers in Victoria is working on a tool that aims to find hidden COVID-19 cases in the community.

Dr. Laura Cowen, principal investigator and associate professor in UVic’s department of mathematics and statistics, said that by estimating the number of undetected cases, researchers gain a better understanding of the spread of the current wave and the underlying spread of a future wave.

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“Our mathematical model will allow the detection of early signals that a future wave has begun, and identify infections among high-risk groups such as the elderly, school children, and long-term care clients,” she said.

Using Island Health data, the team will adapt the current contact tracing tool to pinpoint locations where COVID-19 infections may inadvertently be transferred to vulnerable populations. The new modeling tool takes into account the virus’s peak viral load of seven days before symptoms occur, through a ‘multiverse’ approach to track people’s movements during a period where they’re infectious but not feeling sick yet.

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For example, researchers tracking the scenario of a home care worker with a ‘hidden’ case, two children at home and who dine out once a week, will be able to better rate the risk by layering this ‘what if’ information into the mathematical model. When finished, the model will predict the transmission rate associated with relaxing public health measures with greater precision.

This work is possible thanks to a $149,300 award from the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR) COVID-19 Research Response Fund and the Victoria Hospitals Foundation’s donors. The community can help support health care research on Vancouver Island, including projects focused on COVID-19, by donating to the Victoria Hospitals Foundation at victoriahf.ca/research.

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