Written by: Harvin Bhathal, Peak Associate
SFU mathematics professor and infectious disease modeller Dr. Caroline Colijn is using mathematical modelling to project trends in the COVID-19 pandemic. Her research has allowed provincial health officers to better determine the next steps during the pandemic with regard to its COVID-19 health policies.
Dr. Colijn was also selected by the Chief Science Advisor of Canada to sit on a multidisciplinary science expert panel to advise on COVID-19-related scientific developments. Additionally, Colijn has a track record in public health modelling as she was appointed as a Canada 150 Research Chair in Mathematics for Infection Evolution and Public Health in 2017.
“Mathematical modelling is the best tool we have to explore possible impacts of our choices and also the uncertainty due to key unknowns,” Colijn said in an interview with The Peak.
Dr. Colijn explained to The Peak that the factors considered in calculations for mathematically modelling the outbreak of COVID-19 include: “Reported case counts, estimates of time between symptom onset and reporting, the time frame when distancing measures ramped up, and the numbers of tests that were done.”
With this information, Colijn and her team “use a model to estimate the strength of distancing, and compare it to the estimated critical threshold.”
On May 6, 2020, the BC Provincial Government eased the COVID-19 restrictions that have been in place since March due to the global pandemic, allowing for gatherings of up to six people.
Dr. Colijn was supportive of this measure, saying: “There is room for some cautious relaxing of distancing measures. This should be done in combination with strengthened testing and contact tracing and with a close eye on COVID-19 cases, because it’s easy to go too far.”
Furthermore, Dr. Colijn stated, “We have estimated that distancing has been effective in BC and that community transmission is now relatively low; this will continue if contacts are kept below the critical threshold.”
According to the BC Centre for Disease Control, 78,665 COVID-19 tests have been conducted in BC as of May 4, 2020. In an article for The Province, Colijn spoke in favour of random testing, noting that BC “could accomplish random testing with about the same number of tests it is doing now.”
Dr. Colijn’s MAGPIE (Mathematics, Genomics, and Prediction in Infection and Evolution) research group has also been modelling the COVID-19 global pandemic, transmission rates, and the effect of physical distancing on the outbreak trajectory.
According to Dr. Colijn, “If too much contact resumes, cases will rise, potentially quickly. This could undo the benefits we have achieved.”
Dr. Colijn and her team have also been granted funding from Genome BC to further examine the effectiveness of current measures and when restrictions should be relaxed.