With the current COVID-19 virus placing many countries and their people into lockdown, there is a sudden thirst for data and information that unravels what the spread of the virus means. Leaders around the world are using data to present models on how we can “flatten the curve”, and how social distancing impacts numbers, as well as what specific infection scenarios will yield and are showing.
According to TechSoft International, the exclusive partner for TIBCO in sub-Saharan Africa, data science, and the visualisation of analytics in these trying times, is providing people with a simplified means to understand the complex scenarios that the global population is being confronted with.
“The data scientists at TIBCO have been collecting, collating and unpacking data from myriad resources to try and create scenarios not just for the layman, but governments alike, to offer a better understanding of what lies in the detail,” says Clinton Scott, managing director at TechSoft International. “Critical learnings thus far include the fact that errors around future predictions are very real. It is only through precise and ongoing data modelling, visualisation and predictions of infections that medical professionals will be able garner a view of emerging predictions.”
Lesson in data
Using TIBCO Spotfire’s visual analytics, TIBCO data scientists are using modelling, simulation and analytics, inputting verified and trusted data sources from around the world. One such example includes the Johns Hopkins University, and locally, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, albeit the latter’s external data is scant and merely there as a public service announcement.
“A hard lesson that the world is being faced with is to rely on only qualified data sources. Sure, data can be collated from anywhere, but is it accurate and is it qualified are key considerations. When connected to an accurate resource, and models are defined, you can gain a continually updated view of data and see the COVID-19 case trajectories by country,” adds Scott.
Drawing from these data sources, the team has developed a free Spotfire app that shows fatality trajectories by country, and tracks where peaks and troughs are being experienced in new infections.
Modelling outbreaks and interventions
“When we have data that shows what the state of a situation looks like, we can start using it to drill down into the cause and effect and then map the potential outcomes, which is what the Spotfire app is attempting to highlight,” states Scott.
When viewing the visualisation in the app, it is important to note that epidemiologists model infectious diseases in compartment models: for example, the SEIR model where people transition from susceptible (S) to exposed (E) to infected (I) to removed (R), with S+E+I+R=N, where R can be recovered or died, and N is the total population size. This then also leads to the reproduction number (R0), which is the average number of people infected from a person with an infection.
“When you provide the public health system with this data, they can act on one of two things: where can they slow or stop the spread and what mitigation strategies are working. It also offers the public a very real, visual view of the cause and effect of their own actions, which, at this point, might be the most critical component in helping to stop the spread,” adds Scott.
In the data, you will see the initial focus of health experts is to focus on suppressing, namely reducing the R0 by isolating infected people, reducing case numbers and containing it until there is a vaccine. This worked in the case of SARS and Ebola, but COVID-19 is different: some patients are 100% asymptomatic, so their data is not being collected, and with that goes their ability to infect others. Nations like South Korea, where mass testing has been enforced, helps to identify more cases, and in turn gives a better view in the data.