As city and state leaders decide the critical next steps for their communities when it comes to COVID-19, who are they leaning on for advice? How do they know what things will look like in the coming days or months?
It’s anything but intuition and far from an educated guess.
They are relying on hard data. And leaning on machines in the Chicago area to pump it out. It’s some of the best equipment on the planet too.
The computers inside the Argonne National Laboratory are humming 24 hours a day and churning out data for the city at a critical time in our history.
Dr. Charles Macal is a senior systems engineer toiling exclusively over COVID-19 information. He does modeling for computational epidemiology. In other words, he pumps out projections when it comes to the pandemic.
“We have a lot of computing power right here at Argonne Lab,” he said. “Probably as much as anywhere in the world.”
And that’s why the city and state rely so heavily on modeling when it comes to predicting what COVID-19 might do next.
“Our job is do the projections, similar to Tom Skilling with his weather forecasting,” Macal said. “It’s all about the science.”
Meanwhile people like Dr Allison Arwardy, the head of the Chicago Dept of Public Health , wait anxiously for the results. They talk once a week.
“Our computers are working 24 hours a day, thousands of processes working in parallel, plugged into the dept of energy complex,” Macal said. “It takes time to get output, confirm it, and to come away with some basic conclusions.”
Macal said his conclusions and his data is all on par with the governor’s stay at home order.
“We did calculate in our move that if stay at home order had been relaxed, we likely would have seen a second peak over the summer – within six weeks – which would have been greater or as great as the peak we are already experiencing,” he said.
And while the stay at home order and the extension of it to May 31 does flatten the curve, Argonne`s data tells scientists like Macal so much more. And Illinois is listening.
“I’m not horrified,” he said. “Things are obviously going to be improving.”
Macal’s models project that a second wave is possible.
“It could very well be an annually occurring type of outbreak that occurs at some level around the world,” he said.
How people behave is one of the many factors considered in the models Argonne produces. Macal said because of that: “The outcome of this is in our hands.”