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How Data from Scientific Models Can Help Parents Make Decisions

Before this pandemic, many of us had never heard of models or modeling, at least, the scientific kind. Epidemiologist, Stephen Kissler, says people should think about them as mathematical predictions that produce information, the kind of information that people need to see in order to make decisions. Much like a weather forecast, that can tell you what to expect.

“So really all a model is, is a way of taking what we know about a given situation and we formalize them as mathematical equations. But that allows us to say you know what happens when a susceptible and an infectious personal come into contact? How likely is it that infection will spread? And if it spreads and if we scale that up to the size of the population how many people do we expect to be infected and how quickly?” says Kissler.

Maybe you are a mother like Jessica Oveido who has been isolating with her two girls for months, making sure they do their homework, they get some exercise and that they’re not in front of computers all day long. But she’s tired of being stuck at home and wants to know when it’s safe to resume their normal activities.

“Just not knowing what to do, I think that’s the part that bothers me the most,” says Oveido.

Initially, the models predicted that using masks correctly and social distancing would contain the spread. And you can see the results in states that adopted these policies. Just look at New York’s data on the website www.covidactnow. This was the nation’s hotspot at the beginning of the pandemic. But on this date, the numbers show a much different story. The infection rate is decreasing, there is widespread testing, and they have enough hospital beds to handle a new wave of cases. All good news for parents who live in New York. Elsewhere however, where case numbers are rising, more precautions are needed.

“So, in a situation like the one we’re in right now it’s especially important because we’re facing something that we haven’t really faced before,” says Kissler.

In Arizona where the governor opened up the state early and masks were NOT mandated, but just recommended, the positive testing rate is 22.5% indicating that the state is not doing a lot of testing, and more alarmingly, hospitals have reached their maximum capacity, and Dr.s may have to make the difficult decision of choosing which patient to admit. An important lesson for parents like Jessica Oveido, look at the numbers, be careful when making decisions, and wait until your community adopts behaviors that will help contain the virus.

“I have a lot of sympathy for parents and for anyone who’s trying to make sense of this vast body of scientific literature. Never before in history has scientific information been so accessible at a person’s fingertips. The last thing to note is that especially for things like infectious diseases, we as individuals in the community can have a very large impact on how they spread,” says Kissler.

This video produced by the NIST, or National Institute of Standards and Technology— demonstrates the way that air flows out from our lungs when we breathe and cough, and how that flow changes when we wear face coverings. It also shows that some types of masks work better than others. A well-fitting face covering, that covers both nose and mouth, offers the best protection. You can find more information on this website. https://youtu.be/sRIdkWKcRbo.

To watch local TV news report, see here: https://positiveparentingnews.org/news-reports/covid-19-models-and-parents/

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