Slowing the Spread of COVID-19 Will Protect Communities

March 2020
Topics: Public Health, Health Innovation, Healthcare Economics and Organizations, Environmental Health, Government Agency Operations
The new coronavirus is fast and aggressive. But so are the many organizations—public and private—that are bringing their strengths and resources to the fight, including MITRE.
Planet earth from outer space

An artist's rendering of the spread of the COVID-19 virus across the globe. (Image courtesy of Getty Images.)

Applying real-time data analytics to an epidemic or pandemic can help in flattening the curve of infection and change its course, as seen with Ebola and H1N1. As with previous pandemics and health crises, MITRE is a leading convener and authority working with government agencies and other stakeholders to address these crises, from developing data-driven guidelines for managing disease spread to creating models that predict where resources will be needed.

Dr. Jay Schnitzer, MITRE’s chief technology and medical officer, directs these corporate and national initiatives in health and life sciences, building coalitions leveraging the best talent across the nation in these communities.

From the first news of COVID-19, we’ve been forming diverse teams to help the government gather, aggregate and analyze data from around the world, identifying best practices to share, and adapting our models to real-world results to understand the consequences of various actions.

In between worldwide pandemics, MITRE conducts research, looking at what we learned from the last one and how the government can better use data and new technologies to cope with new outbreaks.

Strength Through Partnerships

Several organizations in the private sector asked MITRE to convene the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition to combine knowledge and resources. This is a private-industry-led response that brings together pandemic experts, healthcare organizations, big tech, government, nonprofits, academia, and startups to enhance situational awareness.

The Coalition Partners are already contributing data, knowledge, analytics tools, and various services. The goal is to protect the nation’s healthcare systems and help save lives. 

Tracking the Virus

Our research in secure monitoring and reporting for public health led us to develop “Sara Alert™,” a tool that can help public health departments contain the spread of COVID-19. We developed this standards-based, open source tool in partnership with national public health organizations to support disease outbreaks. In fact, we were already testing it before the new coronavirus hit.

“Public Health officials can use Sara Alert to enroll individuals at risk of developing a coronavirus infection,” explained Dr. Paul Jarris, chief medical adviser and project lead. “Individuals enter their symptoms into the tool daily, providing public health officials with real-time insights. By tracking potential cases state and local public health departments can rapidly and safely arrange healthcare and prevent further spread of the infection.”

MITRE has built Sara Alert to be an enduring resource that can be easily modified to handle this and any future diseases.

When to Act

MITRE looks for ways to provide value to the government and fill gaps in what others are doing to solve national problems. From our work in defense, aviation, and healthcare, we know what leaders need to make tough decisions. We have years of expertise pulling together the right data at the right time for a “commander,” which in the case of COVID-19 could be a public health official, governor or mayor, to act on with confidence.

The U.S. is benefitting from the experience of other countries, as the data tells us which actions have produced positive results. We used this knowledge to create COVID-19 guidelines for decision makers with the goal of slowing the spread of the virus and preventing U.S. healthcare systems from being overwhelmed. Guidelines include:

  • Triggers—indications that it’s time to launch mitigations
  • Nonpharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) that have been successful in other countries, including social distancing
  • Reverse Triggers—when to pull back the NPIs
  • Tradeoffs— the potential of inadvertent consequences of each NPI

At MITRE, we're following our own advice by adopting NPIs to support our employees and their families, as well as all the people we work with from other organizations. Even before the government came out strongly in favor of community mitigation measures, we began restricting business travel, mandating teleworking for most staff, and prohibiting staff from attending or holding business meetings of more than 20 people.

Through data, governments, industry, and consumers can make informed decisions. And these decisions may help arrest the spread of the new coronavirus.

by Beverly Wood

Explore more at MITRE Focal Point: Health Outcomes.

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