Led by Eric Boerwinkle, PhD, and Momiao Xiong, PhD, the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) modeled the potential spread of COVID-19 based on whether the Greater Houston area began stringent interventions immediately or waited one week or two weeks. That data was presented Monday to city and county officials.
They estimated that if strict interventions began immediately, the number of coronavirus cases could grow to approximately 3,500 by the anticipated end of the infection, which would be approximately May 12 in the Houston area. The end of infection is defined as when there is no significant person-to-person transfer of the virus.
If strict interventions were delayed one week, that number would rise to 24,000 and if delayed two weeks, cases would climb to 153,000.
Boerwinkle’s team also modeled that, with immediate strict interventions, the peak of the virus in Houston would be April 7 and the number of cumulative cases would be approximately 1,800 at that time.
“This latter number is an important figure because it is helping hospitals, clinics, and physicians to plan accordingly,” said Boerwinkle, dean and M. David Low Chair in Public Health at UTHealth School of Public Health. “This is part of our mission at the School of Public Health: to give leaders the information they need to make sound public policy and health care decisions.”
The team used artificial intelligence to first create the modeling based on cases in China and Italy and applied that to 150 countries around the world. As the virus spread to the U.S., the modeling was used first at the state level and then the major metropolitan areas in Texas, including Houston.
“Although there are a lot of numbers and a lot of details, we saw two consistent patterns: earlier intervention was better, and more stringent intervention was better than less stringent,” Boerwinkle said. “It is also heartening to see that Texas generally fares better than many states in the top tier of case numbers.”
A separate study by Stephen Linder, PhD, professor at UTHealth School of Public Health, pinpointed Harris County areas where the population is the most vulnerable because of age and chronic conditions.
“Early information out of China indicated that age was the major factor predicting severity. After we began receiving data from the U.S. and Europe, we started seeing the impact of chronic conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure,” Boerwinkle said.
“We need to make sure that all Houstonians and area residents have ready access to quality health care and our work at UTHealth and the other institutions in the Texas Medical Center is committed to that objective,” Boerwinkle said.
Boerwinkle and Xiong are both members of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. Xiong is also professor of biostatistics at UTHealth School of Public Health.