Weill Cornell doctor creates epidemic modeling tool

Mathematical modeling by Weill Cornell Medicine is helping to guide New York state and New York City leaders as they make decisions that could affect the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Using a tool he created called the Cornell COVID Caseload Calculator C5V, Dr. Nathaniel Hupert, associate professor of population health sciences and of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, has been making forecasts of the potential impact of COVID-19 on local and regional health care systems. The data helps state and city leaders answer questions related to when cases of the disease will peak in hospitals and what resources will be needed to successfully care for those patients.

Along with two other COVID-19 modeling groups in New York City and several in Albany, Hupert is working to accurately anticipate the health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic in order to better plan for anticipated surges in patient arrivals. Using a second, more epidemiologically oriented, model created with the University of Oxford and an international modeling coalition called the CoMo Collaborative, he is also modeling how eventual lifting of restrictions on social interaction will influence further disease spread and subsequent demands on the health care system.

This 152-country model will soon be released online.

“What we hope to achieve with this work,” Hupert said, “is not only to better prepare hospitals to care for the oncoming waves of patients affected by this pandemic, but also help health planners and political leaders find a way out of the need for social distancing and other lockdown procedures.”

Models such as these are only as good as the data on which they are based, Hupert said. Each day, he receives data from state and city health officials on the number of COVID-19 tests administered throughout the state and their results, the numbers of patients admitted to hospitals throughout New York state, the availability of hospital beds and ventilators, and deaths from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Hupert – who has worked for more than 20 years in public health emergency preparedness and support for New York City and national leaders – created the original framework for the Cornell COVID Caseload Calculator C5V six years ago, with two faculty members at Cornell’s School of Operations Research and Information Engineering (ORIE), in the College of Engineering.

Working on the 2014 West Africa Ebola outbreak for the U.S. federal government, Hupert turned to John A. Muckstadt, the Acheson-Laibe Professor of Engineering in ORIE, and Peter L. Jackson, professor emeritus in ORIE, to help build models to predict how large Ebola medical treatment facilities would need to be to work effectively. The process of creating the Cornell Calculator helped speed the development of the hospital component of the COVID-19 International model, which he and his colleagues in the CoMo Collaborative are making freely available to help hospital leaders across the country and around the world during the current crisis.

“Dr. Nathaniel Hupert has dedicated his career to disaster preparedness,” said Dr. Rainu Kaushal, chair of the Department of Population Health Sciences and senior associate dean for clinical research at Weill Cornell Medicine. “He is applying decades of knowledge to this moment in history to help us understand and rapidly plan for this pandemic. I am proud of his remarkable contributions to assist people across the world, especially New Yorkers.”

For a longer version of this story, visit the Weill Cornell Medicine website.

Bridget Kuehn is a freelance writer for Weill Cornell Medicine.

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