Local researchers work to predict COVID-19 trends

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While we can't look through a crystal ball to see how the coronavirus will impact Arkansas, local researchers are working to build something similar by developing prediction models.

NORTHWEST ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) —The number of COVID-19 cases rose from 335 to 386 in the Natural State in just 24 hours.

But what will things look like tomorrow, next week, or the rest of the year?

Northwest Arkansas researchers are using science in hopes of answering that question.

Governor Asa Hutchinson said, “They can look at what’s happened in New York, Washington State, they can look at what’s happened across the globe. There’s a number of different studies as to what the future could look like.”

While we can’t look through a crystal ball to see how the coronavirus will impact Arkansas, local researchers are working to build something similar by developing prediction models.

Justin Zhan, an Arkansas Research Alliance scholar and data science professor at the University of Arkansas said, “We are using blockchain systems and also artificial intelligence systems for coronavirus genetic variation trend prediction.”

Basically, these models are meant to help public officials like Governor Hutchinson watch and adapt to trends of the virus.

“We could go to 2,000 cases by the first week of April and we could be, in two weeks, up to 3,500 cases in Arkansas,” said Hutchinson.

This is the Arkansas Department of Health’s prediction model.

But, not all models are the same.

“You look at the models and they range wildly,” he said.

Zhan said this is because the virus’ genetic variation is different in every place it lives.

“When it comes to maybe a different region or a different country, or maybe a different state, then there’s changes there,” Zhan said.

He said this is why it’s so difficult to create a COVID-19 vaccine.

“Even if we have a vaccine produced one day, if the genetics of the virus change, then the vaccine is not proper anymore,” he said.

His work, in collaboration with UAMS researchers, aims to get one step ahead of the virus, and predict its next move.

“The end product eventually will have socioeconomic impact, to have proper vaccines used any time for coronavirus in the future,” Zhan said.

An impact Zhan hopes is lasting in the fight against the coronavirus.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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