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Using math to outpace COVID-19

The mathematical model that serves as the heart of a groundbreaking platform, called the Feasibility Analysis of Syndromic Surveillance Using Spatio-Temporal Epidemiological Modeler for Early Detection of Diseases (FASSSTER), took center stage in the latest installment of Ateneo de Manila University’s webinar.


Dr. Elvie de Lara-Tuprio, Mathematical Modeling Team Lead for FASSSTER and Chair of Ateneo’s Department of Mathematics, School of Science and Engineering, presented the complex model they are using to provide projections to some of our country’s decision-makers as we continue to face the threat of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) during the Acts of Magis: Ateneans at the Forefront of a Pandemic webinar held last May 22.


“A mathematical model is used to gain insights about a phenomenon,” Dr. de Lara-Tuprio explained. “It’s important to know the difference between the real world in which we observe the phenomenon and the conceptual world where the mathematical model works. A mathematical model starts with simplifying assumptions and we should always remember these assumptions when interpreting the results.”

Dr. de Lara-Tuprio adds that researchers continue to improve the model to make its output closer to reality, thus making mathematical modeling a dynamic process. In the webinar, she walked the audience through the model that FASSSTER uses and how this can be utilized by the government to guide their strategies as the Philippines transitions to the ‘new normal’. 

“Although this project is quite challenging and exhausting for us, it’s another realization of our desire to see math as not just an abstraction but as something very tangible and useful in our lives. With mathematics, we are able to serve the country. It’s very concrete. It can help our government and our policy-makers and it can help solve our problem,” Dr. de Lara-Tuprio said.

She also presented several projections during the webinar about the possible increase of COVID-19 cases in the country now that more places are under either modified enhanced community quarantine or general community quarantine. One projection showed an estimated peak infection of more than 170,000 cases by July 20, assuming that 50 percent of the country’s population is allowed to go outside and work while maintaining a 20 percent level of health capacity system. By dramatically increasing the level of our health system capacity to 50 percent under the same parameters, a significantly lower peak of 22,000 positive cases will be seen by May 29. 

“It’s possible to allow a certain percentage of the population to go out, meaning we allow workers to go back to work, to earn a living, and let the economy restart provided that we invest in enhanced health systems capacity. If we can’t reach that level of health systems capacity, the huge numbers might be realized,” Dr. de Lara-Tuprio warned. 

She adds that aside from improving our country’s capacity to test, isolate, trace, and treat, our population must also do their share in ensuring that we manage the spread of the disease. 

“The responsibility is not solely in the hands of the government. Everyone should do their part; follow the health protocol, social distancing, personal hygiene, cooperate with the LGUs and health authorities, and so on,” Dr. de Lara-Tuprio added. 

To watch the entire webinar of Dr. de Lara-Tuprio about the mathematical model of FASSSTER, please click this link https://youtu.be/3GSvYh3obm0. To stay updated about the final installment of the Acts of Magis: Ateneans at the Forefront of a Pandemic webinars scheduled to be held on May 29, visit facebook.com/ateneodemanila.


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