by Angelo Ortea

On the onset of the Luzon lockdown, following the outbreak of COVID-19, different mathematical models attempting to infer the trend and peak dates in the country have been released by various scientists and experts.

“Mathematical disease models” may sound unfamiliar and daunting, but these models will be able to provide evidence-based forecasts on the current spread of the virus which help shape various preventive measures and policies.

With the collaboration of Ateneo Center for Computing Competency and Research (ACCCRe) at Ateneo de Manila University; University of the Philippines Manila National Telehealth Center (UP-NTHC); and Department of Health Epidemiology Bureau; Feasibility Analysis of Syndromic Surveillance using Spatio-Temporal Epidemiological Modeler (FASSSTER) came into fruition.

FASSSTER is a web-based online tool that uses deterministic compartmental modeling and process COVID-19 data to generate information to be used by the national, regional, and local policymakers to assess their current situation and come up with a better plan in combatting this pandemic.

Diving into the app

Future numbers.With appropriate model parameters, FASSSTER will be able to provide the policymakers at different levels the forecast of future figures of infections, confirmed positive cases, deaths, and recoveries.

Enhanced community quarantine, social distancing, and case testing are being implemented across the Philippines. Through FASSSTER, the users will be able to project the impact of these interventions on the total number of confirmed cases, deaths, and recoveries over time.

The same tool was used by the government together with health capacity and economic models developed by volunteers from Asian Institute of Management (AIM) and the Philippine Institute of Development Studies (PIDS) in considering the extension of enhanced community quarantine until April 30.

An SMS-based application, TanodCOVID, was also integrated in the tool to enable the users report any COVID-19 related issues to their local health authorities. Thus, the tool will serve as a tracker upon contract tracing and monitoring to carry out necessary actions.

Lockdown keeps infections at bay

According to the Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD), the program was able to estimate the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila with all the implemented interventions considered.

The following scenarios are generated by FASSSTER models to predict the peak dates and number of the outbreak:

  • No enhanced community quarantine (ECQ): Peak on May 30 with 2 million cases
  • Lifting of ECQ on April 14 with increased health capacity (testing capacity and health management capacity) by 25%: Peak on July 31 with 1.5 million cases
  • Lifting of ECQ on April 14 with increased health capacity (testing capacity and health management capacity) by 50%: Peak on May 4 with 15,000 cases
  • Lifting of ECQ on April 30 with increased health capacity (testing capacity and health management capacity) by 75%: Peak on May 21 with 6,800 cases

FASSSTER was also able to predict the demographics of the possible cases and determine which case will be: symptomatic or asymptomatic infectious, positive cases, recovered, deaths, projected mild or critical cases.

The goal is to “flatten the curve,” and curb the coronavirus outbreak disease before the health sector is “overburdened with positive cases.”

DOST-PCHRD stated that through the help of these projections, the government approved the extension of Metro Manila lockdown.

“It also highlighted the need to increase the number of quarantine facilities, implement stronger healthcare programs and regular assessment of health capacities,” DOST-PCHRD added.

With the ample time given, agencies were expected to improve health care facilities and provide a better system in dealing the infective patients in line with the goal of flattening the curve.

Mass testing capabilities, alongside human and material resources, need to be increased to support our already burdened national health system. Through the special powers of the President provided by Republic Act No. 11469 (or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act), these shortcomings can be addressed.

“Disease modeling is an iterative process,” the agency stated. As new data arrives, new models will be generated. The models will be kept updated to keep up with the implementation of new interventions.

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