City outbreak report

Weekly COVID-19 outbreak reports from cities around the world

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Social distancing in New York City has left one the world’s most vibrant urban centers eerily quiet.

As part of a massive crowd sourced research effort, has organized local groups of epidemiologists, data scientists, and researchers to predict how the outbreak will affect their local communities. These are their stories, told one city a time…

New York City’s first COVID-19 case was confirmed on March 1st. A month later, there are now over 60,000 confirmed cases, thousands of deaths, and the city’s hospital capacity is being tested as health care work force is rapidly adapting to an unprecedented surge in hospitalizations.

For the last month, a small research team led by Keena Roberts, an epidemiologist from Johns Hopkins, and Jordan Poles, an NYU medical student, has been developing an effective method for modeling outbreak dynamics in NYC.

The group’s first publication came out this week that describes a general city outbreak model that can be tailored to different scenarios for different cities.

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SIRD Model for projected infections and hospitalizations in NYC. See full publication on

The group hopes that others can use the code base to more easily model their own city. Next they are planning to apply their model to predict potential for rebounds and second peaks as the outbreak and social distancing policies fluctuate over the coming months.

“We’re modeling changes in potential outbreak trajectories in response to public health measures (like lifting shelter-in-place) using Susceptible-Infected-Recovered-Deceased (SIRD) models.” — Jordan Poles

A key advantage of city-level outbreak modeling is tailoring predictions to nuances and conditions on the ground in a specific city. No city is the same — accurately predicting the future requires a robust foundation of good data. By increasing sensitivity to local conditions, informal data sources, and personal experiences and observations, city-specific modeling research hopes to make better predictions during a notoriously unpredictable pandemic. The goal is to see into the future just a few weeks, to help understand what lies ahead and what preparations should be made. Every day counts.

Next week we’ll look at a research team working to rapidly model a looming outbreak in a rural city that doesn’t have the resources and attention of bigger cities.

Stay safe, wash your hands, stay home, and stay tuned for a look at our next city outbreak report.

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