LOOKING FURTHER: The accuracy of UAMS COVID-19 models

KNWA

“Models are models, they’re not reality itself.”

NORTHWEST, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Predicting the spread of the virus in a pandemic is quite a challenging endeavor, and UAMS doctors are doing just that.

Since the start of this pandemic, UAMS has been using models to track the spread of COVID-19.

People can, I think, reasonably put faith in the models.

DR. MARK WILLIAMS, DEAN OF UAMS OF COLLEGE OF PUBLIC HEALTH

The question is: How accurate are they?

KNWA/FOX 24 spoke to UAMS College of Public Health Dr. Mark Williams to find out.

In July 2020, a report done by UAMS projected Arkansas could see 20,000 new daily COVID-19 cases by the end of September, or 6,000 new cases a day with statewide mask compliance.

In Governor Asa Hutchinson’s last COVID-19 briefing in September, the state reported 482 new cases of COVID-19.

Dr. Williams told KNWA/FOX 24 with little evidence to go on at the beginning of this pandemic, these estimates were made from populations with higher infection rates.

“All we had to go by early on in the pandemic was the reports that were coming out of Wuhan or New York for example, where the infection rate was much higher than the infection rate was here in Arkansas,” Dr. Williams said. “When we were able to get more data, we were able to adjust our rate of infection, and that made the models much more accurate.”

Recent projections are much more spot on.

We’ve been within 3-8 percent accuracy in terms of our modeling.

DR. MARK WILLIAMS, DEAN OF UAMS OF COLLEGE OF PUBLIC HEALTH

These models are being used as a tool to help show Arkansans what to expect — sort of like a weather forecast.

“It’s not a method for telling fortunes, it really is a matter of forecasting,” Dr. Williams said. “We can look at how the virus is likely to behave, in terms of infections within a certain amount of time.” 

Dr. Williams said all the data going into the models, is only Arkansas data.

“The models are based on good science and they have been tested throughout a number of infectious diseases,” Dr. Williams said. “They’ve had a good bit of refinement and we are fairly certain as to how they behave.” 

At this point, these models are still the best chance we have at predicting the future of the pandemic.

KNWA/FOX 24 asked the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) about the projections:

We do think there is a utility to producing forecasts like this, and we appreciate the work UAMS has done. These models give us important information to consider about how COVID-19 may spread in the weeks to come. The forecast also offers an important reminder that even as we see lowered hospitalizations and active cases, we are still in a pandemic and must continue to take steps to prevent infection.

ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH SPOKESMAN

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