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Why have models of Colorado’s coronavirus trajectory been off?

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Posted at 10:10 AM, Aug 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-09 12:10:44-04

The researchers trying to model how many Americans might be hospitalized or killed by COVID-19 have been criticized from multiple sides, with allegations they needlessly scared people or gave leaders false reassurances it was OK to reopen businesses.

In Colorado, recent projections that the state could run out of hospital beds as early as September appear unlikely to come true, as new coronavirus infections slowed down after a rapid increase in mid-July.

Other projections far underestimated the outbreak’s toll, predicting about 300 would die of the virus by early August. As of Friday, 1,736 Coloradans had been killed by the virus, and another 121 people had died with it in their systems.

Experts point to at least three factors to explain why projections haven’t hit the mark: the inherent limitations of models, holes in our knowledge of the new virus and people changing their behavior faster than anticipated.

Jimi Adams, an associate professor of health and behavioral sciences at the University of Colorado Denver, said there’s often a misunderstanding of what models do. Some, like new two-week predictions from Google, try to forecast what will happen. Others try to lay out what could happen under different possible scenarios, including if no policies change, which isn’t likely during a pandemic, he said.

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