Technion Researchers Develop a Simulator for Managing the Coronavirus Exit Strategy
A team of experts from Technion and the Civic Cabinet has designed a simulator that assesses the ramifications of the government’s various policy decisions on the spread of the coronavirus in Israel. The simulator incorporates data from the whole world, and in the next two weeks, data will be added about the effect of releasing the lockdown in Israel. After that, the information will become available to the public.
The Mathematics of the pandemic: A joint team of Technion researchers and members of the Civic Cabinet project is developing a simulator, tailored to the Israeli economy, that can help decision-makers evaluate various courses of action. The simulator will enable its users to assess the ramifications of different policy directions not only on the health care system but also on Israel’s economy, the scope of social isolation, and the national budget.
The simulator is designed to assist decision-makers with the management of the coronavirus crisis through a user-friendly interface that can link between policies (such as isolating high-risk groups or issuing personal isolation orders) and various cost indices (for example, the number of forecasted deaths, the number of patients expected to be on ventilators, and the loss of GNP), both in the short-term and the long-term. The simulator is currently being tested by various entities, and has received support within the government.
To date, the development team has completed the process of modeling demographic and personal isolation policies. Over the next two weeks, data that accumulates about the impact of opening businesses and schools will be added to the model. The simulator will then enable its users to evaluate the consequences of different policies, including: comprehensive lockdown, isolating certain age groups, complete or partial reopening of the school system, requiring protective gear as social distancing measures, hand washing, and wearing masks, as well as the issue of resuming air travel. The simulator’s users will be able to enter a large range of variables and receive all the resulting effects―making it possible to focus the discussion on specific issues such as the number of available hospital beds or the obligation to wear protective masks.
The team is led by Technion researchers Professor Nir Gavish of the Faculty of Mathematics and Professor Omri Barak of the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine―both of whom are members of the Interdisciplinary Applied Mathematics Program at Technion―along with Professor Tami Shohat, who was until recently the director of the Israel Center for Disease Control of the Ministry of Health, and Dr. Gal Alon, head of the Civic Cabinet project and founder of the government’s policy planning framework. Additional partners include Dr. Lydia Peres Hari of Technion’s Faculty of Mathematics; Itamar Menuhin, an alumnus of the Rothschild-Technion Program for Excellence and currently a Masters student at Tel Aviv University; Leehe Friedman, lecturer and director of the Honors Track in Strategy and Decision Making at IDC Herzliya’s Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy; and Ofek Mushkat, an undergraduate student in the program.
“Various plans for releasing the lockdown were recently presented to the public, some of which even clash, but the mathematical models on which they were based were not presented,” said Prof. Gavish. “Sharing information about these tools and the data on which they are based will make it possible to conduct a pragmatic discussion on the exit strategies and will help the scientific community contribute to the decision-making process.”
“One of our principal values is transparency,” said Prof. Barak. “Transparency means genuinely involving the public―the simulator will be available to everyone who wants to use it, and this way the public will be able to understand why certain decisions are made rather than others. This will enhance public trust, which we believe is almost as important a resource as hospital beds. Trust based on transparency will boost compliance with guidelines and will thereby be beneficial to all of us.”
The team emphasizes that the simulator is still being developed, and will incorporate the data from the next two weeks as it is published. “Even when it is completed, the simulator will not replace decision making and will not provide unequivocal operational answers,” said Prof. Barak. “The simulator will not supply comprehensive answers to all the questions, but it will allow the decision-makers to evaluate the different options―guidelines, bans, etc. ―and assess them according to their expected consequences. We hope and expect that many professionals will use the simulator, thereby helping to improve it as well as enhancing their decision-making process.”
The idea of building a simulator was born in Prof. Gavish’s course “Introduction to Applied Mathematics” at Technion. “I always bring a test case to the course and work on it with the students. This semester, inevitably, I talked about models for the spread of epidemics and infections. While preparing for the course I started a blog where I write about this subject, and the blog led me to Dr. Gal Alon, head of the Civic Cabinet project, and to Leehe Friedman, the project’s professional director.”
“The Civic Cabinet is a volunteer organization that was recently founded in order to advance decisions that will help Israel overcome the coronavirus crisis and reduce the damage from the pandemic,” explained Dr. Alon. “Our team is comprised of leading experts involved in finding innovative systemic solutions to assist the decision-makers. Working with the Technion experts, we are assembling a toolbox that will enable users to see the complex effects of each complicated policy decision. It isn’t sufficient to focus on one aspect, such as the number of available ventilators, because there is a complicated network of considerations and consequences that include employment, social, economic and educational aspects, among others.”
Prof. Nir Gavish is a member of the Technion Faculty of Mathematics. He is an applied mathematician who uses a variety of analytical and calculation tools to solve problems connected to the movement of ions in biological and electrochemical systems, as well as superconductors, auction theory, and more.
Prof. Omri Barak is a member of both the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine at Technion and of the Network Biology Research Laboratories at Technion. He studies how the dynamics of neural networks in the brain support the processes of learning and memory, using theoretical tools from the worlds of mathematics and physics and analyzing data from experiments obtained from research laboratories with which he collaborates.
Dr. Gal Alon received a Ph.D. in Social Policy from the London School of Economics. He was an external lecturer at the Schools of Public Policy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University, as well as a consultant for strategic development at the Prime Minister’s Office.