How artificial intelligence data mining can help us fight COVID-19
Data Mining – While we focus on vaccines, anti-virals and respirators in the fight against COVID-19, there’s another type of technology that gets less attention, but may be even more important in lessening the impact of the pandemic—information technology.
Given that we’ve been hearing more and more about the importance of widespread testing, we’re probably less surprised at this than we might have been a few weeks ago. It’s becoming increasingly clear that knowledge is actually one of the most important tools we have. The good news is that we have people working all the angles on this, from artificial intelligence data mining to genetic sequencing.
Why is this so important? It can get a little bit abstract, but the all-important testing strategy demonstrates exactly why knowledge is power.
Current evidence suggests that a certain number of people will get the novel coronavirus and be entirely asymptomatic. Some will never even know they had it. Meanwhile, others will get COVID-19 and have mild symptoms—not severe enough to go to the hospital. And, after they recover, they won’t know for sure what they had. Maybe it was just the flu.
Working under the assumption that people develop an immunity after they get it (likely, but not proven yet), these people, after the contagion period ended, would no longer be at risk of either getting or spreading it. That would leave them free to go back to work or, better yet, volunteer at a hospital.
Without testing, though, we have no way of knowing if they ever had it. And since, right now, we’re mainly limiting testing to people who have symptoms, we’re nowhere close to finding out who doesn’t have it at this point—a number that’s just as valuable as the number of active cases.
“Public health works best when we can get as precise as possible,” explains Steven Hoffman, director of the global strategy lab and professor of global health law and political science at York University. “So, as long as we’re in the current situation where we don’t have the full testing capacity, we’re stuck with more blunt tools like closing schools and asking everyone to remain at home except for essential trips outside. Those are effective for slowing the spread of the virus and buying us time but not, ultimately, for getting society back to normal.”
By now, most people understand that “buying time” through social distancing is important so that hospitals aren’t overwhelmed but, as Hoffman explains, it’s also about getting us to a point where we’ve beefed up our public health agencies so they’re ready to do mass-testing. The cuts to the Ontario Public Health budget under the Ford government means we started out at a disadvantage. And without mass “surveillance testing,” the official numbers we see reported are always out of date. It takes five days for symptoms to show up, then several more days for test results, so the confirmed case numbers we’re looking at could be 10 days post-transmission.
This article originally appeared on thestar.com To read the full article and see the images, click here.
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