COVID-19 simulation critical piece of Board of Visitors' planning
Virginia Tech has long been home to a variety of researchers who collect a wide breadth of data and put that information to work serving others.
University leadership has remained rooted in this culture as they’ve navigated the COVID-19 pandemic for more than a year and a half. The most recent example is Navid Ghaffarzadegan’s presentation of his COVID-19 modeling work to the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors during their meeting on Monday.
An associate professor in the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, Ghaffarzadegan uses the combination of mathematical modeling, complex systems methods, and simulation techniques to gauge how human behavior might impact the virus’ spread on and around the Blacksburg campus. Such information provides university leaders with potential cause-and-effect scenarios related to policymaking and strategic communications.
During the roughly 30-minute presentation, Ghaffarzadegan detailed findings from his most recent model. The findings include a strong relationship between proactive measures, such as masking in indoor spaces and having a high vaccination rate in the campus community, and a lower number of potential COVID-19 cases
“Every day we learn more about COVID-19 as scientists all around the world conduct research on the new variants of the virus and disseminate their findings, and we use these data to update and better calibrate our models,” said Ghaffarzadegan. “But so far, policy-wise, simulation experiments have been robustly showing that we should continue being vigilant in our daily interactions and comply with common protective measures – and that vaccination is the leverage point for protecting our students, staff, faculty, and community members.”
Prior to the rise of the delta variant, Ghaffarzadegan’s model was already demonstrating the potential positive impacts that a highly vaccinated Virginia Tech community would have on the fall semester. Universitywide progress toward a higher level of resilience can be tracked on the vaccine dashboard.
Ghaffarzadegan has conducted ongoing COVID-19 modeling for more than a year and has been part of the university’s decision-making process throughout the pandemic. He is a part of an interdisciplinary COVID modeling group, led by Ron Fricker, interim dean of the College of Science, and Laura Hungerford, professor and head of the Virginia Tech Public Health Program in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.
Focused on the Blacksburg campus, the models for both the fall and spring semesters of the 2020-21 academic year proved to be remarkably accurate when compared to the real-time data now available from those periods. And while the models can’t predict the future, they have allowed leaders to make informed decisions to mitigate risks in the campus community.
Ghaffarzadegan’s most recent modeling confirms the importance of the university’s approach to vaccinations – required for students and employees – and proactive mitigation measures, such as masking in indoor spaces, avoiding crowds, continuous testing of those who are unvaccinated, and effective communication with students and employees about the state of the pandemic and protective measures.
Perhaps most of all, his model shows that reaching the full potential for an in-person fall semester really hinges on the Virginia Tech community deciding to take care of themselves and others.
“Remember that this is a marathon, and we should continue being vigilant. The more students and staff who are vaccinated, and the more careful we are in our daily interactions, the better the university experience will be for our students and faculty,” Ghaffarzadegan said. “At Virginia Tech, serving our community is one of our main missions. Currently, a major way to that end is through trying contain the virus, by following protective measures, and by keeping our friends and community members safer.”