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Science + Tech

We Crack Open Dr. Henry’s Model for Taming the Pandemic: A Tyee Video

WATCH: This math machine informs life-saving decisions. How it works, and the brains behind it.

David Beers 17 Aug 2020 |

David Beers was founding editor of The Tyee and is its editor for initiatives.

No one in B.C. had died of COVID-19 the previous day, but Dr. Bonnie Henry worried aloud on Thursday. She warned rising cases could soon top the worst seen so far.

Why was the province’s top doctor so firm in her warning?

How can she be so confident that risks are high — but also that if we change our behaviour we can “bend that curve back down”?

A model told her. Specifically, an intricate equation devised by experts including mathematicians Caroline Colijn of Simon Fraser University and Daniel Coombs of the University of British Columbia.

Spend a brief five minutes watching the video above to go inside their mechanism for forecasting possible tomorrows.

Colijn, Coombs and others now are plugging in variables to answer questions such as what effect the U.S. border opening would have on cases, how going back to school in September could change things, and what the best way to roll out a vaccine will be if we get one.

The model makers, like Dr. Henry, emphasize they are not predicting a single, certain future. However, they signal likely outcomes depending on factors such as how people act and which measures are put in place.

Colijn compares B.C.’s pandemic model to fire hazard warnings issued to the public. The forest may not be ablaze; still, if it’s tinder dry, we could be one lit match away from a wildfire. Similarly, though rates of infection right now look low in B.C. compared to many other places, we may be poised for exponential growth, projects the model.

What to do? Social distancing is like choosing not to build a campfire, notes Colijn. “The only thing we know that’s worked worldwide is staying away from each other.”

This video was made by the brilliant folks at Avo Media, who have partnered with The Tyee to create four previous video explainers related to the pandemic. Find them all here.

To get notified when new Tyee videos are uploaded, follow our YouTube channel by clicking the red “subscribe” button.

And let us know what you think in the comments.  [Tyee]

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