Mass. General Hospital Builds COVID-19 Simulator To Help Predict Impact of Policy Decisions

Download Audio
Mass. General Hospital's COVID-19 Simulator, which can project future infections, hospitalizations, and deaths that could be a result of certain policy decisions.
Mass. General Hospital's COVID-19 Simulator, which can project future infections, hospitalizations, and deaths that could be a result of certain policy decisions.

Gov. Charlie Baker says this week he will begin discussing when non-essential businesses may begin reopening across the state. In his press conference on Saturday, Baker said rules for reopening need to be put in place, and that Massachusetts needs to see a reduction of infection and hospitalizations over a significant period of time.

To help with the state's decision regarding when and how to take action, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have developed a COVID-19 simulator that they say can predict future infections, hospitalizations, and deaths.

WBUR's Sharon Brody spoke with Jagpreet Chhatwal, lead investigator and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School about the new COVID-19 model. Chhatwal warns that the model indicates an easing of restrictions in Massachusetts would not be safe before the end of June.

Interview Highlights

On how the model was built and how it works: 

"[It] is built using conventional infectious disease modeling and statistical modeling. And one of the influential models is sort of a static model. It's showing us where we are heading, but it may not necessarily inform the decision [about] what would happen if we continue with this social distancing for the next twelve weeks versus the next two weeks, [or] if we lift restrictions today and what would happen. These are important decisions that need to be made and our model is trying to fill those gaps."

"[This is done on a state by state level.] We have all 50 states plus Puerto Rico."

On scenarios the model could project if closure restrictions are lifted in Massachusetts on May 4:

"So in that case, we could see a spike happening within the next two to three weeks after the restrictions are lifted. So we definitely do not want that to happen when we have not contained the virus in the community."

"[In] another model, we assume that if you can bring down the number of active cases to 10 per million people - which corresponds to around 70 cases in Massachusetts; these are active cases - we can comfortably feel that we have enough testing in place so we can isolate these cases...If we continue with the existing restrictions, we can expect that happening by the end of June. But before that, if we lift restrictions, the virus can spread in the community, which can be difficult to trace."

On what the model shows about other states around the country: 

" We don't think any state is ready to be open in the next two weeks or so. It's better to delay the opening process."

"...That's a delicate decision, but we do not want worse to happen. If you open the economy, if we lift restrictions sooner than later, we can see a spike in cases, spike in deaths. And all these are important...factors in the decision process. We have to make a balanced decision based upon what could be the impact of making that decision on the lives of people. These are not just numbers in the models. These are lives that could be lost."

This segment aired on April 26, 2020.


Sharon Brody News Anchor
Sharon Brody is the voice of WBUR's weekend mornings. On Saturdays and Sundays, she anchors the news for Weekend Edition and other popular programs.


Derek J. Anderson Digital Producer
Derek J. Anderson is a digital producer for WBUR.



More from WBUR

Listen Live