Nfld. & Labrador

COVID-19 modelling more challenging as case numbers shrink, says biologist

As the number of active cases in the province has dropped to zero, a member of the province's COVID-19 modelling team says forecasting has become more challenging.

2nd outbreak still to be expected, Amy Hurford says

Amy Hurford is a mathematical biologist at Memorial University and part of Newfoundland and Labrador's COVID-19 modelling team. (Memorial University/Submitted by Amy Hurford)

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Newfoundland and Labrador's COVID-19 modelling team has been working to predict how things might unfold, but with the number of active cases in the province down to zero, one team member says forecasting has become more challenging.

"I think we have a harder job here in Newfoundland," Amy Hurford, a mathematical biologist at Memorial University told CBC Radio's On The Go Thursday.

"It's kind of one problem to have a curve … but it's a much harder question to say 'we have no active cases in the province right now, what's going to happen in the future?' It's almost like you have no information here right now to answer that question."

Hurford and the province's COVID-19 modelling team, led by Dr. Proton Rahman, released their first data model in April, which suggested the province could run out of intensive care units by June. However, as the number of active cases changed, so did the forecast.

"That was one of the things that really surprised me … and I think surprised everyone," Hurford said. "Everywhere across the world, we were doing modelling to try to look at how things are going to unfold in different regions. I think at the time, we thought we were headed to surge capacity like everyone else."

"Credit to the hard work of all the people of Newfoundland and Labrador," she added. "In a lot of ways I'm really surprised how effective we were."

I think we still have to remain expecting that we're going to see a second outbreak.- Amy Hurford

Although the province has gone 30 days without a new positive case of COVID-19, Hurford said trends still suggest a second outbreak in Newfoundland and Labrador in the future.

"We have a large fraction of our population, pretty much 100 per cent, who are still susceptible to the virus," she said.

"I think we still have to remain expecting that we're going to see a second outbreak."

Hurford said a second outbreak may come further down the road, and doesn't expect the upcoming Atlantic bubble will bring a lot of infection to the province.

Even if more advancements are made, she said the data isn't the only information used to make public health decisions.

Dr. Proton Rahman, a professor of medicine and a clinical researcher at Memorial University's school of medicine, has worked with Hurford and other members of the COVID-19 modelling team. He has shared the data at the province's media briefings. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

"These more complex decisions that relate to all aspects of our lives, those are decisions for public health or experts in other areas," Hurford said. "We just really focus on making the predictions."

"My training is in mathematics, but I don't have training in public health or training in economics. You do the predictions, but there's a lot of people with expertise to bring to the table. It's got to be a collaborative effort."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from On The Go

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