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COVID-19 crisis in WNY: UB experts continue developing models

"The wave hasn't quite hit us yet, but it's coming"
Posted at 2:30 PM, Apr 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-09 17:22:12-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Models are just one tool in the COVID-19 crisis aiding towards a better understanding of how to tackle the virus. Peter Winkelstein is the man behind the models closer to home. He along with a team at University at Buffalo are trying to gauge when that wave may crash specifically in Erie County.

"The wave hasn’t quite hit us yet, but it’s coming," Winkelstein, Executive Director at UB’s Institute for Healthcare Informatics, said. He continued, "We’re trying to take the best thinking that’s out there combine it with our best thinking and localize it.”

These evolving models are focused particularly on preparing hospitals. The Erie County Department of Health reached out to UB's Institute for Healthcare Informatics about a month ago to begin these models. Although these models are not public, Winkelstein said early indications paint the picture that social distancing is working.

"I think we have done a tremendous job of preparing for this…and that preparation is not like you prepare and then wait, it’s ongoing," he said over a video call.

The focus on hospitals boils down to two reasons, according to Winkelstein. First it is because testing is better and more frequent in this setting. Secondly, it gives us some indication on how the local healthcare system can handle the wave once it arrives. It also allows hospitals in the county to better operationally plan.

"Everybody wants to know when is the peak coming and how bad is it going to be and related to that, when is this all going to be over. That's what everybody wants to know and I totally understand, I'd like to know too. But the problem is we don’t know and the models aren’t good enough to tell us for sure," he said.

Without question, Winkelstein said, there is uncertainty in these models. Several factors – like limited testing and how the virus reproduces hinder the models. Those like Winkelstein have to make the best estimates with the information at hand.

7 Eyewitness News reporter, Nikki DeMentri, asked: "A lot of people are asking why can’t we see these models. Why aren’t these models being released to the public?”

Winkelstein answered: "I can’t speak to that I actually, I would actually like these models to be released to the public. Speaking from the modeling standpoint, I would like to know better where the, what the parameters are that inform them.” He continued, "I can’t really speak to what the census of the best way to talk about the models. Again, what we’ve been concentrating on is how do we best inform the health system, the department of health on what we think is happening.”

Regardless, the big takeaway here is social distancing. This holiday weekend isn't a pass to stop, instead it's a time to be most vigilant.

"Time is our friend here. We want to buy as much time as possible and the way we do this is social distancing," he said.

Earlier Thursday, Erie County Health Commissioner, Dr. Gale Burstein, said she is confident these models are accurate. She called the COVID-19 crisis a “marathon.” As for if and when these models could be made public, the ECDOH said in an email the models are drafts and maintained by UB.