microscopic image of coronavirus
Microscopic image of SARS-CoV-2 (yellow)—the virus that causes COVID-19 (Photo courtesy: NIH).

A team of University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa researchers will attempt to forecast COVID-19 in Hawaiʻi through modeling based on current data. Led by Department of Mathematics Professor and principal investigator Monique Chyba, the one-year project, which kicked off on July 1, received a $199,000 award from the National Science Foundation.

“Accurate mathematical models are essential to understand the complex mechanisms that allow the virus to spread and how the rate of spreading varies over time given mitigation efforts such as social distancing and travel limitations,” Chyba said.

Joining Chyba are co-principal investigators Yuriy Mileyko, a Department of Mathematics associate professor; and Alice Koniges, a computational scientist at the Maui High Performance Computing Center.

Project details

Hawaiʻi has had one of the strictest COVID-19 visitor policies in the U.S., instituting a two-week quarantine for all out-of-state arrivals. Researchers recognized that as an archipelago, Hawaiʻi was in a position to establish policies to seal its borders that no other state could do.

The project will use a current data set of visitor arrivals and COVID-19 infections statewide to model its spread and the effects of mitigation efforts. It will drill down the spread of COVID-19 among specific communities, unlike current models which only focus on the region as a whole.

“The biggest challenge for the state right now is how to implement and control travel-related spread,” Koniges said. “Careful analysis of how the spreading factors change are key to mathematical modeling.”

Project goals

The researchers said Hawaiʻi’s advanced computational resources will help to make accurate predictions in the rapidly changing environment of COVID-19. The models will be available to the public and decision makers involved in the COVID-19 response strategy. Another goal of the project is to engage students and provide instruction for the future generation of researchers.

Others involved in the project include the Hawaiʻi Data Science Institute, National Disaster Preparedness Training Center and mathematicians at the University of California, Los Angeles, who are helping California form its COVID-19 mitigation strategies.

—By Marc Arakaki