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Family First with FOX43: Helping parents understand COVID-19 models

Doctors say understanding the coronavirus projections will help families better realize why it's important to take steps to mitigate the spread today.

BOSTON — When will it be safe to get a haircut, go out to eat, or work without fear of catching the virus? Epidemiologists use modeling to predict when and where COVID-19 might hit hardest and how many new infections and fatalities are likely. 

“It allows us to take what we know on a small scale about how infection spreads and scale it up to ask questions that have cultural, political and personal relevance," said Stephen Kissler, Ph.D., from the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University.

Search the internet though, and you’ll find confusion and conflicting public opinion, with some people questioning whether the original numbers were overestimated or inflated for political reasons and whether social distancing is an overreaction. Dr. Kissler says not so fast, because models are meant to change. Every place that closed, every donned mask and person who self-isolated played a part in predicting outcomes.

“People have really changed their behavior and that can change the way the disease spreads. That can completely change the model, because again, those underlying assumptions that we put in from the beginning have changed,” Kissler said.

A study of the virus in the Lancet Infectious Disease medical journal showed in 194 places worldwide, social distancing played a critical role in keeping the virus from overwhelming health systems. Kissler says it will take additional surveillance to help control the U.S. spread.

“We’re still learning a lot about this infection. There’s still a lot of data coming in. Our predictions can change over time. Ideally, they are getting better and better as we are learning more and more,” he said.

As states continue reopening, health experts encourage parents to consult their pediatricians if they have doubts about when it is safe to stop sheltering, wearing masks or other practices to keep their families healthy. Parents can also go to https://fivethirtyeight.com/ and find the latest evidence on the pandemic.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Executive Producer and Field Producer, Roque Correa, Editor

Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation