Population data could be key to controlling a future COVID outbreak in WA

28/09/21. By Telethon Kids Institute.

Illustration by Curtin student Nina Dakin.

Perth researchers will use population data to help boost WA’s defences in the fight against COVID-19, developing modelling to build a clearer picture of how the virus could spread through high-risk populations.

Telethon Kids Institute and Curtin University Associate Professor Nick Golding and his team have been awarded a WA Future Health Research and Innovation Fund grant for the project Quantifying contact networks for COVID-19 outbreak preparedness.

The project will use detailed surveys of different population groups across WA to build a complete picture of how COVID-19 could spread within those groups and the risk of ‘spill-over’ to others. Associate Professor Golding says once that picture is complete, it could be used to predict which group the infection may spread to next.

“One of the big unknowns with this virus at the moment is around which groups of people it gets into and how quickly they spread it to one another, and that’s shaped by lots of factors – where they work, what they do during the day, the size of their households and how much contact they have with other people.”

Illustration by Nina Dakin.

“Having modelling like this would allow us to predict where the virus is likely to spread in the event of another outbreak in WA, allowing the Department of Health to hopefully contain it more quickly.”

Associate Professor Golding said the team would use many in-depth surveys to gather data about the behaviour and movements of specific groups of people, particularly those in high-risk jobs such as aged care, before using mathematical modelling to predict how an outbreak would spread in those communities.

“We will use code models to run various simulations for how the virus is most likely to spread through the population,” he says. “We’ll be providing that tool to the WA Department of Health so they can work out where to focus their efforts.”

Illustration by Nina Dakin.

Associate Professor Golding said reaching people in culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities was crucial to the research.

“We know that 70 per cent of people who work as personal care attendants in aged care are from CALD communities, so they are a really important demographic in terms of how the virus could spread.”

The information gathered through the project will be provided in real-time updates to the WA Department of Health to help bolster its contact tracing arsenal.

This article was originally published here by Telethon Kids Institute on Thursday 4 February 2021, and has been republished with permission from the Telethon Kids Institute.

All original illustrations by Curtin student Nina Dakin (Bachelor of Design, Animation and Game Design). Explore more of her art here.

Associate Professor Nick Golding, Curtin School of Population Health

Associate Professor Nick Golding, Curtin School of Population Health

Nick Golding is an infectious disease modeller with a focus on globally important pathogens. He is a member of the Australian national modelling team, advising state and national governments on their response to COVID-19 throughout the pandemic.

Recently, Nick contributed research toward the Doherty Institute’s Modelling Report for National Cabinet concerning the pandemic. This used modelling of COVID-19 infections (including the Delta variant) and vaccinations to define the vaccine target level for Phase B of the Federal Government’s national plan.

“This research addresses a key question in modelling of COVID-19: how will the virus spread between people of different ages, and in different communities and types of places?

“Understanding how often people come into contact with each other is especially important when we think about the equity aspects of reopening Australia, which is a major focus of the second phase of our work to inform the national plan for reopening. If we can understand how the virus will spread in underprivileged communities, overcrowded households and different types of workplaces, we can pre-empt where COVID-19 will hit the hardest and tailor our public health response to support those people.”


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