Stempel College researchers inform Miami-Dade policymakers with COVID-19 tracker
Researchers from FIU’s Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work have launched the Miami-Dade COVID-19 Trend Tracker, a website dedicated to monitoring the long and short term trends of COVID-19 and its impact on local hospitals.
“We began this project looking to create forecasting models, but we learned it is easier to predict hurricanes than the spread of COVID-19 due to many dynamic factors that change constantly,” said Zoran Bursac, chair of the Department of Biostatistics. “As the state and Miami-Dade County moved into the phased reopening, we determined that it was more important to accurately monitor the trends based on the data, which we use to inform local policymakers who have to balance public health and the economy.”
Bursac, along with Mary Jo Trepka, chair of the Department of Epidemiology; Gabriel J. Odom, assistant professor of Biostatistics; and Roy Williams, recent Stempel College biostatistics graduate; has been working with municipalities and their administration throughout Miami-Dade County to explain the data in lay terms as it becomes available, and educate policymakers as the county is experiencing a resurgence of cases within the first COVID-19 wave.
The website, which is publicly available, tracks long and short term trends of COVID-19 data throughout the county since April 2 as well as hospitalization data, a key indicator of the county’s hospital capacity to handle existing and new cases. This is the only tracker specific to South Florida and, unlike the health department website, the tracker reports the average change over time.
“We are seeing an increase in the proportion of positive COVID-19 cases since the first phase of the reopening,” said Trepka. “Municipalities received guidelines on re-opening but they do not have guidelines on when to pull back, which is why it is so critical to monitor the cases closely before the hospitals and ICUs start to have capacity issues—which is something we have avoided so far in Miami-Dade County.”
“Graduating from a biostatistics program during a national public health epidemic, I felt compelled to do what I could to assist my community in a time of need,” Williams said. “Public understanding and transparency are critical pillars in combating the epidemic. I’m glad our work has been able to help guide policy decisions.”
The researchers stressed that Miami-Dade County is still in the first wave of the pandemic, and it is vital to continue taking necessary precautions to halt the spread of the virus as much as possible, such as wearing a mask, distancing at least six feet apart from others and continuous handwashing.