USF researcher using lessons from Ebola in hopes of tracking COVID-19 trajectory

Posted at 11:54 PM, Oct 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-06 00:45:13-04

TAMPA, Fla. -- A researcher with the University of South Florida is working to apply methods used to study the Ebola virus outbreaks to look at the spread of the virus causing COVID-19.

Andrew Kramer is an assistant professor in the department of integrative biology at USF. He said USF researchers and collaborators with the University of Georgia are trying to understand how the geography of human populations leads to disease spread, and the impact of government actions, including travel restrictions.

Kramer said his focus is on the early stage of the outbreak in Asia.

“When people travel, two of the biggest things that drive that is how far apart two places are and how many people live in those places,” Kramer said. “So people are more likely to go to a large city than to a small place out in the country and they’re more likely to go to one that’s nearby. And so that kind of drives a lot of general mobility patterns but if you’re sick, that can change how you behave, where you’re likely to go, how likely you are to move and so what we do is we actually use the data from the disease. So the observations,” he said.

Kramer said they’re using a similar method applied to studying the spread of Ebola, something he’s actively involved in researching to help figure out which areas are most at-risk.

“The goal is to make a model that can be used early in the disease when you don’t have very much information. COVID moved so fast it sort of outpaced our ability to provide useful information there. Luckily, Ebola doesn’t spread quite as fast so we’re able to be a little more helpful in terms of OK, it popped up in this town, now you need to worry about these two places,” he said.

Kramer said they want to create a model that can help make predictions early on in a disease where it may be headed next.

“There are gonna be more diseases that emerge. When a disease outbreak is starting, decisions need to be made. You have a limited amount of information to make those decisions and as a scientist, my goal is to get the most value out of that information that we can,” he said.

The new study is funded by an NSF Rapid Response grant.