A coronavirus model that has been quoted by the White House is looking to include data on whether Americans wear masks, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
Change will be one of many in recent weeks for the agency model, which is has been criticized previously for their assumptions and performance.
When countries have begun to reopen, IHME has raised estimates for the number of deaths from the corona virus in the US, partly based on mobile mobility data showing more mobile people.
But the institute revised its projections down a bit this week, saying the expected increase in infections had not yet occurred.
The mask data will come from the application, which has limitations
Christopher Murray, director of IHME, told CNN on Monday that there has not been a strong correlation between movement and cases or death. He said the mask might be the reason why, and on Wednesday, the IHME outlined his plan to gather data on how many people covered their faces.
The agency said it used information from Premise, which was described as “a crowdsourcing data collection company.” Contributors to the premise application were asked if they wore masks when they left home, IHME said, but the data have limitations. This is self-reported, for example, and may not represent people who do not use the application.
However, IHME points to differences in the use of masks between countries. Last week, for example, at least 80% of survey respondents in more than a dozen countries said they sometimes or always wore masks outside the home, including in New York and Florida.
But less than 60% of respondents in four other states – including Wisconsin and South Carolina – report the same thing, according to IHME.
Although the agency has not yet included mask data in projections, he said “our team is currently exploring how such data and appropriate estimates can be incorporated into our modeling approach, as well as expanding data sources and locations that are included to measure mask use.”
List of model changes that develop amid criticism
The White House often quotes the IHME model in April, and it’s one of more than a dozen currently highlighted on the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This model is slick and easy to use – and has just launched a new tool to allow users to compare projections between countries – but experts have criticized it before, and the model has often changed in recent weeks.
For example, IHME is used to predict that deaths in the US will stop this summer, even without continuing social distance. In mid-April, Murray said that his model assumed that other control measures – such as contact tracing – would reduce the risk of awakening to “basically zero.”
But epidemiologists at the time were skeptical and said that the assumption was not realistic. IHME now estimates tens of thousands of deaths after June 1.
The model also assumes that deaths in the states will rise and fall at the same rate – basically according to the curve – but that does not happen. Since then IHME has revised its methodology to predict a longer and more protracted epidemic in the US.
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