U of C’s Dr. Sarah Cobey on running one of the models Illinois uses to determine stay-at-home guidelines

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Dr. Sarah Cobey from the University of Chicago’s Department of Ecology & Evolution joined the WGN Morning News Monday to explain the different methods modelers use to track the spread of COVID-19.

While this is a new virus, Dr. Cobey is confident Illinois is on the right track.

“What we can be really confident of at this is point, is that we have managed to avert — in Illinois — a massive epidemic that probably would have peaked by now, and easily infected 60% or more of the population and caused a lot of deaths,” said Dr. Cobey. “So, we can be quite confident of that, and that is based on modeling. Now, identifying when cases are going to peak, is much trickier.”

There are multiple different sets of data Dr. Cobey uses in her modeling, but says deaths are more reliable than individual cases.

“There are multiple streams of data that we could be looking at, and especially early in the pandemic, it wasn’t clear how reliable the different streams were — and to some extent we’re still dealing with that,” she explained. “Most of our analyses focus on deaths. We know there’s massive underreporting of cases, and we also know that underreporting is more sensitive to the precision number of tests that were used on any given day. Mostly we’re working from deaths, but we’re also using the other numbers to check our reasoning.”

Dr. Cobey also shot down the idea of comparing COVID-19 with the flu.

“It’s a respiratory pathogen, but otherwise, no. This is not influenza. For one thing, it threatens to infect a far larger fraction of the population than a flu would in a typical season. We also know that the probability that you’ll die or be extremely ill if you get infected is much, much higher. So, we’re way passed the flu.”

When asked when things may start to get back to normal and businesses may be able to reopen, Dr. Cobey was cautiously optimistic about June.

“I think we are going to start to see some sort of phased reopening — and it absolutely needs to phased — starting in June. And hopefully we’ll just be taking baby steps and checking to see how transmission responds by looking again at new cases and things like that,” she said.

For more information on Dr. Cobey, click here.

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