New online dashboard estimates COVID-19 risks for schools across country

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Photo Credit: Sophia Solomon | Daily Texan Staff

A new dashboard from the UT COVID-19 Modeling Consortium will allow families and school officials to estimate the probability of an infected case emerging at schools across the United States on a weekly basis.

Spencer Fox, associate director for the consortium, said the team is an interdisciplinary group of researchers who develop models to assist public health officials, health workers and policymakers with decision-making during the pandemic. The school dashboard was released in early November and will be consistently updated every week using The New York Times’ daily data set, which tracks the number of cases for each county in the U.S.

The dashboard will project cases at public elementary, middle and high schools in counties across the U.S., Frock said. 

“(The dashboard) allows schools and families to think of their own risk tolerance and risk thresholds and basically decide whether they think it’s safe for the school to be open for interest in education at that time, or whether to send their kids to school at that time,” Fox said.

Remy Pasco, an operations research and industrial engineering graduate student working with the consortium, said an earlier version of the dashboard was featured in The New York Times to show the infection risks of schools across the country during the summer. 

“There’s been a lot of uncertainty, in general, of the role that children have in the transmission of the disease,” Pasco said. “That was a way of helping … anyone in charge, or even people who are concerned about the risk of opening schools, or parents (who) are concerned just to have an idea of what's actually risky, or when the risk is very low.” 

The consortium also has dashboards projecting hospitalizations in Austin and Texas, and projecting mortality in states across the U.S.

“What we had previously … were projection dashboards, basically showing what we think the trajectory of the pandemic might look like in Austin, across different regions of Texas, and similar things for projections across the country,” Fox said.

Biology freshman Kaylee Vu said her sister goes to school in-person and, though she attends a smaller school, she sometimes wonders if her sister will catch COVID-19. Vu said she thinks the dashboard will be especially helpful for those higher-risk counties who have more students attending school in-person.