Massachusetts hospital releases coronavirus simulator to help aid social distancing, lockdown decisions

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A new online tool, the COVID-19 Simulator, may aid policymakers in decisions regarding lockdown and social distancing measures amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and Georgia Tech combined epidemiological and statistical modeling to create the tool. Online users can toggle between several intervention options to see potential outcomes through August 31, 2020.

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Intervention options include minimal restrictions, current intervention (a stay-at-home order), or lockdown with a complete ban on travel.

For Georgia, for example, researchers determined a 4-week full lockdown resulted in fewer deaths as compared to a 12-week stay-at-home advisory.

Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).

Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). (iStock)

“Policymakers need to make decisions quickly—our analysis shows that even a week’s time can have a huge impact on the future trajectory of COVID-19. We developed the COVID-19 Simulator to inform such key decisions under this highly uncertain environment,” said Jagpreet Chhatwal, lead investigator, senior scientist at the MGH Institute for Technology Assessment and Harvard Medical School assistant professor, according to an MGH press release.

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Massachusetts has stay-at-home orders in place until May 4, with Gov. Charlie Baker set to update the advisory later this week. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh during a Monday press conference already voiced that the city “will not open on May 4th,” Boston 25 News reported.

Furthermore, according to a report by the Boston Globe, which cited the COVID-19 Simulator, "deaths from the virus in Massachusetts could remain below 5,000 at summer’s end if residents continue staying home through August," but could possibly "rise to 10 times that if the state suddenly relaxed its guidance to stay home and avoid gatherings."

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With the degree of uncertainty around the coronavirus, researchers said crafting such a simulator was not easy, but their approach will advance as they learn more about the disease, according to Turgey Ayer, Ph.D., the George Family Foundation Early Career Professor in H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering and the Director of Business Intelligence and Healthcare Analytics at the Center for Health and Humanitarian Systems at Georgia Institute of Technology.

Nationally, if the current stay-at-home advisory stays in place, the model predicts a death toll of 86,000 by the summer’s end.