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New COVID Modeling Consortium will help public health leaders make data-based decisions

Berkeley Public Health’s Maya Petersen, MD, PhD, is co-chair of new group

Most vaccines under development are aiming for a robust antibody response to neutralize the coronavirus, as depicted in this cartoon. A UC Berkeley scientist argues that a robust T-cell response should be the goal of a good, long-lasting vaccine against SARS-CoV-2. (iStock image)

University of California Health (UCH) and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) are launching an innovative data modeling consortium to ensure public health policy makers have timely, relevant analysis and insights to support pandemic-related decision making.

The University of California Health-CDPH COVID Modeling Consortium is a regular forum in which nearly 150 UC faculty in epidemiology, infectious diseases, economics, statistics, computer science, ecology and data modeling work with CDPH modelers and public health experts to develop information to inform the pandemic response in California. Through the consortium, researchers will provide updated analyses and discuss new developments in COVID-19, and State public health leaders provide input about the types of analyses that will be most meaningful in thoroughly understanding the health-related patterns and economic impact of COVID-19 in California. Researchers will use the platform to share results of their ongoing analyses with public health leaders in order to provide real-time evidence to inform decision making.

“The power of this consortium is that it facilitates collaboration between academic medicine and public health decision makers. The ongoing exchange of ideas and information can help UC teams focus their analysis work on our state’s most pressing public health issues and shorten the time to delivering actionable, in-depth, data-driven analysis,” said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo who is co-chair of the consortium and professor and chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and Vice Dean for Population Health and Health Equity in the UCSF School of Medicine.

“This approach will be a model for the nation in data analysis and data sharing,” said Dr. Carrie L. Byington, executive vice president of University of California Health and an infectious disease expert. “When public health departments and academic systems work together, the impact on the community is substantial. I’m confident that the consortium will positively impact public policy and save lives.”

The UCH-CDPH COVID Modeling Consortium is the latest example of a strong working relationship between state public health officials and the University’s experts in multiple fields. The outputs expected from UC investigators contributing to the consortium include:

  • Short-term forecasts of COVID-19 metrics such as case rates, hospitalizations and ICU occupancy;
  • Scenario models that quantify the likely impact of various potential public health decisions, vaccine distribution strategies, therapeutic use and adherence to non-pharmaceutical interventions;
  • Cross-cutting health equity analytics to deepen understanding of COVID-19 disparities throughout the state; and
  • Economic modeling to answer questions about cost, and overall economic effects of COVID-19, such as the effect of changes to social services and benefits on hospitalizations or deaths.

The consortium operates under a shared governance structure to ensure the consortium’s work remains valuable to CDPH policy makers and UC investigators.

“Through this collaboration, UC researchers will be able to respond quickly to the needs of public health officials. We’ve not experienced a public health emergency of this intensity in our lifetimes, and this real-time partnership is a very tangible way in which UC is supporting its mission to the people of California,” said Dr. Maya L. Petersen who is co-chair of the consortium and chair of the Division of Biostatistics at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health.

“The UC consortium exemplifies our State’s commitment to using science and evidence to drive our public health decision making. We are very proud to launch this academic and public health consortium. Expanding the engagement with our academic partners will improve the timeliness and relevance of evidence being generated for decision-making and proves that we can meet the challenges of this pandemic, together,” said Dr. Tomás Aragón, Director of the California Department of Public Health and adjunct professor at Berkeley Public Health.

Dr. Erica Pan, State Epidemiologist noted that “our ability to leverage the brain-trust of the UC system in addressing critical public health challenges will have far reaching implications beyond COVID-19. This type of partnership will provide the infrastructure and model we need to not only enhance public health action for this pandemic, but for other public health priorities as well.”

Consortium Work Has Begun

Already, 147 UC researchers from all 10 UC campuses plus CDPH modelers are participating. The consortium’s cross disciplinary membership helps ensure the challenges of the pandemic are being addressed holistically.

UC researchers and CDPH leaders are meeting regularly in topical forums to address the most pressing issues, and as part of those conversations, UC modelers are sharing new and in-progress work, including the provision of short-term estimates of community COVID-19 transmission as well as forecasts for hospitalizations and deaths. UC investigators are also conducting a large-scale data analysis to help target vaccinations to the individuals at highest risk for COVID-19 and associated complications, led by UC researchers Dr. Nathan Lo and Lloyd Chapman, Ph.D. Other UC authors involved include Dr. Bibbins-Domingo, Dr. George Rutherford, Dr. Isabel Rodriguez-Barraquer, and UC Berkeley undergraduate Poojan Shukla.

About University of California Health

University of California Health (UCH) comprises six academic health centers, 20 health professional schools, a Global Health Institute and systemwide services that improve the health of patients and the University’s students, faculty and employees. All of UC’s hospitals are ranked among the best in California and its medical schools and health professional schools are nationally ranked in their respective areas. More information and news from University of California Health is available here.